Your Sentence and What It Means for Your Productivity

There’s a quote that I’ve been thinking about recently. In 1962, Clare Boothe Luce was concerned that John F. Kennedy was trying to do too much: manage the Cuban Missile Crisis, start the Space Race, decide how to handle the conflict that became the Vietnam War… Luce told Kennedy, “A great man is one sentence.” Abraham Lincoln’s was simple: “He preserved the union and freed the slaves.” Franklin Roosevelt’s was, as well: “He lifted us out of a great depression and helped us win a world war.”

Luce wanted Kennedy to think about what his sentence would be — how he would be remembered. And, while I’m not President of the United States and don’t expect to play that crucial of a role in history, I’ve been thinking about what I want my sentence to be. I have a feeling that I’ll be thinking about that question for some time to come, but I’ve come to some conclusions about what my sentence means for the rest of my life.

The Right Mountain to Climb

The problem with sentences is that we don’t always get to choose what our sentences will be. Despite his hard work, Kennedy’s sentence is often, ‘He was assassinated.’ That’s a hell of a thing to be remembered for, especially when we’re talking about a visionary who dreamed of sending astronauts to the moon, guaranteeing African-Americans civil rights and so much more.

The best each of us can do is hope that we can be remembered the way we want, with a sentence of our own devising, and live a life that supports our chosen sentence.

But with a sentence in mind, setting priorities becomes simple. There will always be projects to complete that have nothing to do with your own sentence — how many bills did Kennedy have to sign into law? — but they can be separated from those that do help you towards it. Figuring out what to do on any given day boils down to how to, first, get things out of our way that have nothing to do with our sentences and, second, do something that moves us closer to making our sentence true. It becomes a question of choosing the right mountain to climb and the right mountain is always the one that helps other people to use your sentence to describe you, without any prompting.

Crafting Your Sentence

We each have a different sentence. And — this is something I’m struggling with — not all sentences are something that we want to tell everyone about. There are big sentences and little sentences and, for different reasons, they can sound a little off when we talk about them publicly. I know plenty of folks who say that their sentence is something along the lines of being the best possible parent. But, through their actions, they show that their sentence is really closer to ‘the best salesman in the department’ or ‘the best bronco rider in the country’ or something else very different. The reverse is just as true.

We’re afraid of aiming too low. We’re afraid of admitting that we have big ambitions. Heck, sometimes we’re afraid of going for anything beyond what we have to immediately accomplish.

Your sentence can be private, but it has to be something you truly want to work towards. It can motivate you, guide you through what you need to accomplish and help you get rid of the unimportant stuff, but only if you know what you are shooting for. You may have to try a couple of sentences on for size before you find the right one. But thinking about what your sentence is — how you want to be great — can make a world of difference.

So, what’s your sentence?

Image by Flickr user thesmuggler- Night of the Swallow


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2 Responses to “ Your Sentence and What It Means for Your Productivity ”

  1. Raam Dev says:

    I think that last part is an important thing to keep in mind: Your sentence can, and in my opinion should, be private. Our personal mission statement (or sentence) doesn’t need to be broadcast to the world. It should broadcast itself through our actions, through living our mission, our purpose, our sentence.

    Making our mission statement or sentence public only increases the chances that we will skew the message ensure others interpret it the way we intended. We’re the only one who needs to understand it, so it should be written for us and us alone.

    Actions define who we are to the world, not mission statements or sentences. Lincoln, Kennedy, and Roosevelt didn’t write the sentences that now describe them. They may have had personal mission statements of their own, but the actions and choices they made during their short stay here on Earth defined who they were.

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