One Thing I Learned From Stephen Covey

Stephen Covey died in July at the age of 79. His death was the result of injuries he’d suffered while on a long bike ride in April. Covey is probably best known for his wildly popular book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. While I am not normally interested in the “Management” genre, I was greatly influenced by 7 Habits. Decades later I still remember important lessons that I learned and am still trying to apply.

I thought of one of those lessons while reading a brief article in the Harvard Business Review: “If You Don’t Prioritize Your Life, Someone Else Will” by Greg McKeown. Maybe this point is old news to you, but I remember when it was new to me. Covey taught me that when I don’t have clear priorities, then I empower other people to set the priorities in my life. When I don’t have a clear vision of where I want my life to go, I start living out other people’s vision for my life. When I don’t have a clear idea of what kind of person I want to be, I become like those around me.

Clear priorities don’t just allow you to say yes to the right things but also the ability to say no to the wrong things. What makes saying no so difficult is that for most of us the “wrong” things aren’t bad things. They are often very good things which is why they are so difficult to put off or ignore to turn down.

Here’s a practical example: Your child is part of a competitive sports team and more and more games are on Sunday pulling you away from your normal routine of being at church. You’d prefer if the games weren’t on Sunday but the league determines the schedule and there’s nothing you can do about it. You wish the tournaments weren’t so frequent and you definitely wish they weren’t out of town. But the coach is really good and he says that this is what’s best for the team.

So what do you do? Playing sports can be a really good thing for a kid. Not only are friendships developed but sports can teach kids a lot of important life lessons. Competitive sports can be good too. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a kid developing his (or her) skills with other good athletes. Nothing wrong with kids having the ambition of playing for a high school team.

But what do you do about church? How important is it to be there? Surely it’s okay to miss sometimes. You can always watch it on the live stream. But you wonder whether that’s the same as being there. If you make a habit of skipping church for sports, are you teaching your kids that church is what you do when it’s convenient and there’s nothing else to do?

Now if someone asked you whether God or sports was more important, that would be easy to answer. You’d say that God is far more important than anything in your life including sports. But it’s not that easy. Doesn’t God want you to be a good parent? Would a good parent say no to a kid who really wants to play ball with their friends? And if you do say no, don’t you risk turning your kid off to church?

My point isn’t that one of these answers is right and one wrong although I do have an opinion. My point right now is that if you don’t know your priorities, you will turn this decision over to a league and a coach and other parents. If you haven’t decided what your families priorities are, then you won’t be in a position to say “no” to something good because you want to say “yes” to something better.

Maybe you should think through your priorities. What’s really important to you? And perhaps you should have that same conversation with your family. Then when choices arise, you will make decisions that that reflect your values not someone else’s.

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