Great Later

I went to one of my guys a while back and asked him to do something good for me. He said sure, he’ll put me on the list, so all was well. A reasonable amount of time later, I went back to follow up. The conversation went a little like this:

Me:   “Hey. Remember that good thing I asked you for?”
Him: “Oh yeah, you’re on the list. When I get it worked out, it’s going to be great.”
“So… the good I asked for?’
“Yeah, I’m not working on that. I’m waiting for it to be great.”

He might not have said it exactly that way, but it’s what my English-to-Jamie translator heard.

Now, I’m a regular guy who likes great things. I’ve said more than once that immediate gratification isn’t as important as long-term success, so I waited. And later, still no good. This time, though, there was also no great. And… no real movement towards great either.

I’m certainly no stranger to big ideas, grand plans, and my fair share of ambition. I’ve been on the “just wait and watch this be great” side of the discussion more often than I’ve been on the waiting side like I am now. As a matter of fact, I have a few things in the wings right now that I know will be great later. I think that kind of optimism and ambition is healthy.

When I’m postponing some sort of good so it can be great later for me, either personally or professionally, I do my best to stick to the plan, budget, or the smaller goals. I’ve learned, though, that when I’m waiting and expecting others to wait as well for greatness only I can see and understand, I may need to re-evaluate things.

Ambition is sometime blinding, and a lot of time can be lost.

First, some people just honestly need a little good today, and I don’t get to make that decision for them all the time. Just as often, they don’t want the great thing I want. Again that’s not always my choice. Sometimes, people need exactly what they’re asking for, no matter how small it looks in comparison to what I want to deliver.

Here’s the other and just as likely reason I should rethink my master plan when others are being forced to wait for my greatness: The goal is too lofty. It may never happen, so that person or group being made to wait gets no good now, and as a bonus, never see great later. If my plans end up harder to achieve than I expected, or if I only make it halfway, that’s fine when it’s just me chasing a bit of a dream. When that happens and others have been waiting patiently on the sidelines, then there’s a problem. Worse, it’s my problem because I caused it.

Of course, by the time you have neither good nor great to deliver for whatever reason, the real problem is that you’ve lost credibility and likely trust with those who were waiting. The reasons why you didn’t deliver won’t matter.

Having lofty goals and a master plan are good, but they don’t have to happen at the expense of some good right now. If the answer is that you’re investing all your time and energy into one project that may or may not bear fruit later, you might be missing some other valuable opportunities. If it’s that important, I hope you’ve talked with your leadership to get some help. If it truly has the potential for greatness, talk to a mentor. If at all possible, make some time to deliver something good now.

– Can you work on that project for great later and still deliver some good now?

– Is your plan for great later relying too much on a string of ideal circumstances?

– Have you heard that great plan and knew immediately that, not only would it not happen, but quite literally, no good would come of it?

– Have you included those you’re asking to wait in the decision process to see if they’re even interested in what you want to deliver?

Have a great week out there.

– JT


James Tinker

About James Tinker

James was born and raised in Bangor, and left home at 18 for the Navy. Twenty-five years later, he retired as a Command Master Chief, the highest enlisted rank on a warship in San Diego. His popular blog series, The Day Job, shares personal and professional lessons learned through his career.