Deadlines Matter

by

korean-war-memorial-washington-dc-united-states+1152_13034009578-tpfil02aw-30256Years ago, I studied under Harry J. Cargas. He was a sweetheart of a man who had thousands of crazy stories about life, work and writing.

Harry introduced me to Kurt Vonnegut. Literally.

“This is my good friend, Kurt Vonnegut. Say hello.”

During one particularly long semester, I felt overwhelmed and doomed. I wouldn’t make the deadline for my final paper. But I wasn’t going to lie about my situation and make it worse, so I walked into Harry’s office and told him the truth: I was slammed, disorganized and I would be late.

That’s when my professor sat me down and told me a story about being in the Korean War.

Back in the old days, soldiers ran cables and wires in the field. I think mobile and cellular communication must have existed; however, the cables and wires were a lifeline for the troops.

Anyway, it was Harry’s job to lay cable in horrible places. He worked along dangerous roads, in valleys where he would be exposed, and on mountainsides.

At one point, the commanding officer told Harry to lay about a gazillion feet of cable along a certain road. Having that cable meant life or death for the mission. But there was one problem: they were out of cable.

So Harry said, “Look, I hear you. We are out of wire. What do you want me to do?”

His commanding officer said, “Shit some.”

It was at that moment that I learned an important lesson: you don’t negotiate with commanding officers or a decorated combat veteran like Professor Cargas. And it was an important early lesson on deadlines, too. If you are given a timeline — or you make a commitment to colleagues, friends or clients — you meet that commitment.

  • Did someone on your team get sick? Is your server down? Are you short on resources and staff? Is your budget tight? Did you just get back from vacation?

In the immortal words of Harry Cargas, “Shit some.”

When someone is relying on you to do your job, being late is a luxury that other people cannot afford. Do what you must, but stop letting people down.

PS — I turned in my paper on time and Harry stole cable from another platoon.  It all worked out in the end. Just ask the North Koreans.

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