I lived in England when I was nineteen and twenty years old and had the opportunity of listening to Winston Churchill speak. In a speech that he gave just before his death, he indicated that he had been obsessed with the need to make a difference on the planet.
If anyone has made a difference, Winston Churchill has. After all, he probably saved the free world during World War II. As I listened to him speak, I felt like a baton had been passed to me that day, and I decided, “You know what? I’m going to make a difference, too.” The commitment to that value has affected most of my decisions over the past fifty years. So when the office of then mayor Rudy Giuliani called me three weeks after the events of September 11, 2001, and asked if my business partner Stephen Covey and I would come to New York to lead a workshop for the families affected by the tragedy, I said, “Of course, when do you need us?”
On October 18, 2001, Stephen and I flew to New York. I’d fl own into New York hundreds of times, but this time flying over the East River was a very different experience. The World Trade Center was gone. We flew in late at night and from our window we could only see lights and the smoke that smoldered on. It was a surreal sight.
The next morning at 5:00 a.m., a police van picked us up and took us to Ground Zero, where a tour had been arranged for us by the mayor. After getting through four police checkpoints, we stood on fifteen feet of compacted debris in front of the largest hole I’d ever seen.
As we stood there, a crane pulled an I-beam out of the rubble; it was dripping molten steel on one end. The police officer told us that there had been over forty thousand computers in the World Trade Center and not one had survived the three-thousand-degree fire. It was still burning as we stood there.
Later we were shown into a hotel ballroom designed for a capacity of eighteen hundred people. Four or five hundred additional people stood in every available space. The event began with two police officers and two firefighters in dress uniforms walking in with the American flag. Just that was enough to wipe me out emotionally. The Harlem Girls Choir then blew the roof off, singing three patriotic songs; I have never heard more magnificent music.
By then I was crying like a baby. I was grateful Stephen was up first. When it was my turn to speak, I made my way to the front of the room, stepping over people sitting on the floor. Before I could open my mouth, a firefighter stood up and said, “Mr. Smith, are you going to tell us how we’re going to get out of bed in the morning when we just don’t give a crap anymore?”
That began the toughest and perhaps most rewarding speaking experience I’ve ever had.
I looked out at the expectant, shocked, grief-stricken faces and then said to the firefighter, “If you remember one thing I say today, let it be these words: pain is inevitable; misery is optional. The fact is, bad things happen to good people. Wars happen. People lose their 401(k) retirement accounts. Tsunamis wipe out villages. Nuclear plants melt down. A lot of bad things happen. We’re not going to get through this mortal experience without some pain. But how we choose to deal with that pain is ultimately the measure of who we are and of the success we have in closing our gaps.
“When you compare what happened here on 9/11 to what has happened on this planet in the last one hundred and fifty years, it doesn’t even come up on the scope of ugliness in comparison. Does it?”
It was so quiet in that massive room you could hear a pin drop.
“Let’s go back to June 5, 1944. Eisenhower is in a bunker in England and says to his generals, ‘Gentlemen, we’ve got to throw more kids at that beach in Normandy tomorrow than the Germans have bullets in their bunkers.’ The next day they threw two hundred thousand kids at that beach, and do you know what happened? The Germans ran out of bullets in their bunkers. Eisenhower had estimated within four hundred how many young men he’d lose. How often do we remember that?”
I went on to remind the audience of other tragic and monumental losses: over 400,000 soldiers lost in World War II, more than 600,000 lost in the Civil War; we lost 50,000 soldiers in just three days at the Battle of Gettysburg. Then there was Korea. Vietnam. The list goes on.
I then said, “Let me tell you why this resonates so much with me. On May 18, 1995, my two daughters were driving home from Salt Lake City. My daughter Sharwan was twenty-four years old and three weeks away from her wedding. My daughter Stacie was twenty-five years old, and she had her two-year-old daughter with her in the car. While traveling down I-15 in Utah, they had an accident that rolled the car. Sharwan was killed instantly. My granddaughter, Shilo, was thrown from the car, killing her instantly as well. Somehow, Stacie survived.
“For the first time in my life, I experienced very deep, unbelievable pain. I had to call Sharwan’s fiancé and tell him that she was dead. Stacie’s husband, Larry, already knew because he had been on the phone with Stacie when the accident happened.
“Early in the morning before the funeral of my daughter and granddaughter, I sat in my office trying to come up with something to say. How do you speak at your own daughter’s funeral? You never expect to outlive your kids. As I sat there, my eye rested on a painting in my office that has been there a very long time. It depicts a winter scene in the western prairies with a pioneer couple standing over the grave of a family member they had just buried. As I stared at the painting, I saw something I’d never noticed before. In the background there were other wagons, and people sitting on the wagons holding the reins of their horses. They were waiting for this couple to finish burying their loved one. That’s when I realized what those pioneers knew, and what we all have to learn: We have to move on, or we will not survive. Those early pioneers made a difference for their future generations because they refused to quit.”
Even as tears streamed down my face, I could see recognition in the faces of the audience. At that moment, they knew I understood their pain. I told them, “There are times when I still get mad as hell about losing my daughter and granddaughter, but we have to move on. That experience changed me. It forever changed my outlook on life, and I will never forget it. But if I had decided to be miserable, it would have ruined many lives, my own included.”
Everyone on the planet has to deal with some pain. Regardless of that fact, misery does not have to be a part of it. If you choose misery, you’re done. Your mind shuts down, and you stop thinking about the things you ought to think about, things that could build and strengthen your relationships, your body, your mind, and your business. If you choose misery, everybody around you is also miserable. The end result of misery is hopelessness.
As I looked out at the audience I realized that these people had all made a difference one way or the other in the events of 9/11. Firemen, police officers, neighbors, and bystanders: all went forward against a tide of overwhelming pain and suffering to make a difference.
I have learned that we all want to make a difference, to be significant or to make a contribution in some way so as to alleviate suffering or to make the world a better place.
This book is about making a difference, starting with you. Just as an airline flight attendant will tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others in case of cabin pressure loss, getting your own life together by learning what the Three Gaps are and how to close them will enable you to take control of yourself and your life and to make a huge difference in the world around you, both personally and professionally.
Included in each chapter discussing a gap there is a personal story. These true stories come from people I’ve come to know and admire over the years who have made a real difference in their own lives by closing the Three Gaps.
If you will make a commitment to internalize and act on the lessons of the Three Gaps, we guarantee that you will find new tools to live a more balanced, productive life with an increased ability to make a difference.
Closing the Gaps
Before we can talk about truly making a difference, I need to introduce an important concept. To do that, I want you to think back to 1989 and the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, in which the hero seeks the Holy Grail. Jones follows various clues and overcomes many obstacles to arrive at the ruins at Petra, where he negotiates the traps set to foil unworthy seekers and steps out on a ledge where he can see his goal, a cave containing the Grail. But there is a chasm too wide to cross; this gap separates him from final victory. In the movie, he steps into the void and a bridge magically appears, allowing him to walk across the gap to his goal. Of course, the gaps we face in real life have to be dealt with differently, but the treasures waiting for us when we close these gaps are very real. One of those treasures is the ability to attain inner peace.
Inner peace comes from having serenity, balance, and harmony in our lives achieved through the disciplined closing of the Three Gaps.
Gaps in our lives drain the power needed to make a positive difference in the world. As I will discuss in this book, when we close the Three Gaps we earn the right to serenity, balance, and harmony in our lives, which will in turn increase our capacity to make a real difference in the world.