“…the days and hours leading up to the war had a way of clarifying and stripping away all the ambient noise.”
There are enormous amounts of information written on the subject of priorities; setting them, keeping them, evolving them, and so on. To be sure, it’s a critical part of any successful, happy life. Priorities can give you a sense of direction and purpose. Lewis Carroll, the pen name of Charles L. Dodgson author of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
So, assuming you already have a set of personal and professional priorities that you steer by, how do you know that your priorities are right? And how do you find out if they are not? It’s one thing to have priorities, but it’s quite another to know you’ve got the right ones. I believe the best way to know is through testing or trial; examining your priorities through the lens of real-life experiences.
The Lens Of ‘Real Life’
Serving aboard the supply ship USS Mars (AFS 1), the summer of 1990, we were preparing for the start of hostilities in the Persian Gulf, Operation Desert Storm. I remember vividly how surreal this whole period was for me. We were operating in waters where a couple of ships had already suffered damage from mines. I often went to sleep each night wondering how I was going to wake up; fighting for my life from a mine blast or not. We ran drills to prepare for possible damage from incoming missiles. We did this and many other things to prepare for our involvement in the war.
Sometimes, when we came within relatively close range of shore, we could pick up television signals and would occasionally get US news. Once the Captain had CNN piped all over the ship so the crew could see what the media was reporting. Any news from home was very welcome. I remember seeing Bernard Shaw interviewing several military experts on the potential impact the war could have on US forces. I heard potential casualty numbers like 30,000 US dead. Everyone was saying the Iraqi Republican Guard, fresh off a war with Iran, was heavily trained and experienced, while the US hadn’t been in a real shooting war since Vietnam. No serving soldier, marine, sailor or airman had ever fired a shot in hostility, except for the very oldest and most senior servicemen and women, of which there were very few. The estimates and their logic made sense, which only added to our anxiety. But no one knew how the war was going to go.
What Were My Priorities?
Being in this situation, the start of the war imminent and not knowing how it would go, was very sobering. You begin to look closely at your life, at the things about which you care most. What I found most interesting was how clarifying this situation was regarding what mattered to me. I had no difficulty discerning what was important, what my priorities were. They were simply these:
1. Faith. The first and most obvious thought for me was to make sure I had made peace with God Almighty. You’ve heard the old saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” I found it to be true of myself and the division of men I led. We all got very serious about our eternal futures.
2. Home. We had no email or mobile phones. The only contact from home was through letters, which we only saw when we pulled into port. Any word from our loved ones and any news from home was critical to our morale. Our thoughts were constantly of home; our spouses, children, families, and friends.
3. Work. We believed in what we were sent there to do. We didn’t like it. In fact, we hated being gone or put into this situation. But we knew the risks when we volunteered for the Navy. We were trained to do a job, and by God, we were going to do it and help the Kuwaiti people get their country back.
As we now know, the war turned out to be a quick and decisive one. But, looking back, one observation I’ve made repeatedly is that those three priorities were there before I deployed to the Gulf, but they were confused and jumbled by too much ambient noise and distractions of life. I had let many other things get in the way and confuse the picture. However, the days and hours leading up to the war had a way of clarifying and stripping away all the ambient noise, leaving just those three. I cared about nothing else. There was nothing else.
Since those days I’ve seen the noise and distractions try to return, but I quickly work to put matters right again because I know what the right priorities are for me. My priorities are tried and tested by life experiences. They are clear to me.
The Good Priorities Remain
The most significant observation, however, is those good priorities remain no matter the situation. If they are good, they’ll survive in good and bad times, especially the bad times. If they are not good you’ll know they’re wrong pretty quick when life throws you a massive challenge because they won’t work, they won’t make sense, and they won’t serve you well, at all.
Set your priorities. Let life test them for you. Adjust as necessary. But, once your priorities are known and tested, they’ll serve you the rest of your life — in good and bad times.
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