It’s not a word you want to use too frequently. That would drain it of its power to command attention. Like crying wolf. Everything can’t be urgent, or nothing will. So use it sparingly. When the wolf is at the door, you want everyone to attend to the matter. It’s urgent—save the sheep.
And yet, we do want to live our lives consistently with a sense of urgency, right? Which is definitely not the same as a sense of desperation. In fact, in many ways the two are opposites. “Urgent” has an urge inside it. An insistent desire. It invokes a heightened awareness, a focus on the most important things, a commitment to a particular direction, an effort with a clear purpose: Keep the wolf at bay. Desperation, on the other hand, produces a good deal of flailing about in all directions; befuddlement about knowing exactly what to do; a waste of time and energy; confusion. Wolves’ delight. Sheep will be lost.
I think about this a lot—not the wolf so much, but living with a sense of urgency. We live in a time of radical change and uncertainty—technological disruption, political instability, economic turmoil, terror. And such crazy weather, man. Dire predictions and threatening conditions cast shadows just about everywhere. It’s true in education: The sands are shifting dramatically as costs rise like an irresistible tide. MOOCs (massive open online courses) are in the land, and virtual delivery systems threaten the integrity of our very bricks and mortar. The wolves are howling. Then again, when so many things that were long considered constants are in flux, the conditions for bold leadership emerge, too, especially if you are in a place that has always had innovation in its DNA. And a sense of urgency.
I was reminded of all this at the Logger Athletics Hall of Fame induction ceremony. We honored an impressive crowd of Logger student athletes—an ace pitcher who was drafted in the first round by the Bigs and went on to throw in the majors for Montreal; a four-time All-American national cross country champion who ran like the wind; a three-time national backstroke champ (and a poet!); an All-American catcher and all-time home run record-holder in softball (her entire starting lineup showed up in support and crowned her with as many Hawaiian leis); and an All-American woman soccer player who led the Loggers to our first of 12 Northwest Conference championships and our first NCAA play-off berth in 2000—she helped found the dynasty. Quite a lineup. (More on page 11.)
It was Laura, the soccer player, who got me thinking. What she learned from soccer, she said, among other things that served her well in life after college, was a word of wisdom from Coach Randy Hanson. In his quiet way, when the team lacked intensity and was just going through the motions, he urged them, simply: “Play with a sense of urgency.” The clock is ticking. There are only 45 minutes left in the game. You won’t get a second of it back again. Urgency. Laura remembered that—when she led the team to the conference championship, to nationals, and then as a successful therapist, wife, and mother.
Up in the cloud, too. I just read in the newspaper about another Logger, Jesse Proudman ’07, who is now CEO and founder of Blue Box, a cloud-hosting provider and among America’s fastest-growing companies. Named one of Puget Sound Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” for his entrepreneurial success, Jesse is also a diehard auto racer and a mentor for BLP students—a life coach, you might say. Jesse tells students that it’s the qualities of a successful racer that have put him on the fast track in business, too: “Starting a company and running the day-to-day business comes down to focus and a winning spirit. Whether it is a finish line or a business goal, I focus on what is in front of me and surround myself with a strong team that shares the same mind-set.” Pedal to the metal. Focus on the goal. Commit to winning. Play with a sense of urgency, like the coach said.
“Why do you think your parents sent you here?” That was the question Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and MacArthur Genius Award-winner Junot Díaz asked our students when he was giving a reading and lecture on campus to start the new year. “Get a job,” one voice echoed from the audience. “Get an education,” another chimed. Lots of buzzing out there. “Get good grades.” Díaz closed his eyes and shook his head. “No,” he said, with each reply. “No, that’s not it.” These were important things, he conceded, but they were not the answer: “The real reason you are in college, the purpose your parents had in mind when you came here, was that college would transform you, that you would undergo an experience that would fundamentally change you.” Then he added with a sense of urgency, “If the person who walks down the aisle and collects a diploma after four years at Puget Sound is not a different person from the one who came to campus as a freshman, if you have not been transformed by this place, you did not succeed here.”
That’s what I’m talking about, because that’s our goal. It’s got to be our focus, our finish line, the reason we live with a sense of urgency. We can’t afford to rest, or to be desperate in responding to every dire warning or every proclamation that the ground is shifting beneath our feet, when we are in the business of transforming lives. There isn’t time for that. We have work to do. Every noise in the night is not a wolf. But there are wolves out there. We have to keep a sharp eye on the forest, stay awake, get out in front, prepare, innovate, learn new things. And we must focus on the job of transforming lives. Stay true to our mission. It’s urgent. It really is.