Winston Churchill was such a hero of ours that Anna Marie and I named our second son after him. Jay Winston Jackson and I even traveled together to London on Jay’s twenty-first birthday to spend some time at Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s home outside London.
At Chartwell we enjoyed the pastoral setting of verdant rolling hills and peaceful, grazing sheep. We also learned that Churchill was the first person ever to be made an honorary citizen of the United States. Of particular interest to me, however, were the rooms inside the stately residence where the famous world traveler, prime minister, and author wrote his many volumes of the history of Britain, India, Africa, and the world. He even wrote biographies and a novel and had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953. Churchill didn’t have just one desk at Chartwell where he sat and wrote. Rather, he had writing desks around the perimeter of the room so that he could stand and research and write while moving from one location in the room to another.
I carried several “take-aways” with me as I left Chartwell. Some were quotes I gathered from Winston Churchill’s writings on display. Over the years, the words have changed my personal worldview. Churchill is the one who said, “It’s no use saying, ‘We are doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.”
At first, that quote seems about as cute and innocuous as Yogi Berra saying, “I want to thank you for making this day necessary.” But when you study it, you find the innocent-looking word package filled with dynamite.
The poignancy of the statement is developed at the intersection of four interesting issues: (1) your perception of what is your best, (2) your evaluation determining whether you have done your best, (3) your idea of success, and (4) your perception of what is necessary. Success is only another name for failure if you don’t have your priorities figured out.
I recall the story about a basketball game where, in the heat of excitement, the basketball got loose on the floor. One team member shouldered his way into the players, grabbed the basketball, and shouted aloud, “I’m goal-oriented!” Then he headed toward the basket. He dribbled expertly, he ran fast, and his footwork and balance were something to behold. The crowd screamed. The closer he got to the basket, the more the fans went crazy.
Little did the player realize that he was heading toward the wrong goal! But amid all the noise and clamor, the player with the ball heard the voice of his coach. The coach wasn’t just calmly saying, “Oh my, you’re going the wrong way!” Rather, with a thunderous voice that could have sparked a coronary meltdown, the coach hollered at the player, “Damn you, Jimmy! You’re going the wrong way!” The player heard in time, dropped to the floor, and muttered, “I’ll be damned.”
Stephen Covey says, “It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busy-ness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall.” And the things that are so necessary should never be held hostage by the things we have until now perceived to be important.
Doing what is necessary requires the following qualities:
- Passion—We need a lot of dedicated passion to say, “We are doing our best.” If we’re serious enough to plan and carry out a strategy that would result in doing our best, we’ve already encountered the cost involved in doing it. That passion dare not be lost but transferred to achieve the necessary.
- Perception—How sad it is when we expend our passionate energies to climb the ladder of success only to discover that it was leaning against the wrong wall. How sad to run to the wrong end of the basketball court and score a magnificent shot in the wrong basket. Our perception of the important, the crucial, the fundamental, the imperative, and the quintessential is worthy of the time it takes to determine which wall our ladder is leaning against.
- Priorities—It isn’t a bad thing to go back and reevaluate what we previously held as a priority. As William Bruce Cameron has said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” We need to make certain that the things we ultimately consider as our priorities are really the things that represent our hearts’ desires and the goals we are willing to give our lives for.
The things that are necessary should become our true hearts’ desires, and they should dictate our priorities. Our priorities will then shape our choices, our choices will display our character, and our character will be reflected in our actions. So the main thing isn’t just to prioritize the things on our schedules but to overhaul the schedule of our priorities to accomplish what is truly necessary.
That clear thinking and resolve was what allowed Sir Winston Churchill, in moments of crucial leadership, to courageously stand before the people of a war-ravaged Britain and say,
"You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.
We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."
Winston Churchill certainly had it figured correctly when he said, “It’s no use saying, ‘We are doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.”