Shortcuts: My Long Road to Nowhere

I didn’t grow up in farm country, but if I had to guess the name the mowing implement blocking a lane-and-a-half of road in front of me when I was running late to a meeting, I would dub it

The Crawler.

Thinking quickly, I did a U-turn in the middle of the street and took a shortcut.

Which ended a mile down the road where two cars had locked up the intersection with a fender-bender in front of me.

Faster than fried okra can slide down your gullet, I spied a clear shot to a parking lot that offered a second exit and another shortcut out of the current mess.

But before my “I’m-so-smart!” grin faded from my face, my progress again got halted by a ONE-LANE ROAD AHEAD EXPECT DELAYS sign that flipped from SLOW to STOP as I approached.

Ever-nimble, I turned left into a business to avoid that new delay, returned in the opposite direction, again shot across the parking lot, and finally ended up on the same road where I started from. Hoping the mower had long-since turned off, I zipped down the road at a steady pace, somewhat making up for lost time.

Until I met up with The Crawler within a few minutes.

For a shortcut to live up to its name SHORT (meaning “not long”) and CUT (meaning “to slice a narrow opening in”) requires that–

  1. It saves time, effort or other resources;
  2. It culminates at the intended destination; and
  3. It should be taken only if doing so is legal, moral and ethical.

Paying employees under the table? Not legal. Gossiping about someone? Not moral. Taking credit for the ideas of another. Not ethical. All of those examples are shortcuts, and all fall short on character.

So as I thought about those “shortcuts” I took a few years ago when I rushed to my meeting, I did NOT save time, I did NOT get to my destination using those any of my “shortcut” routes, and I certainly was NOT a model driver when I did a mid-street U-turn or cut through a parking lot twice for the purpose of evading traffic.

These 3 tips may have helped me avoid taking the wrong kind of shortcuts:

1. Practice better time management.

Nothing tempts us to cut corners like running out of time. Get good at planning, estimating and structuring the things that fall within your control so you don’t find yourself pushing deadlines until the last moment. Because it’s in those last moments that we become most reckless.

2. Build contingency plans.

Have a backup. And have a backup for your backup. Remember Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. While that statement is overly pessimistic, even fatalistic, we can avoid living that adage by creating backup plans. For example, when I travel to deliver a presentation, I take with me my laptop, 3 jump drives with my presentation on it, a copy of my presentation loaded on another laptop, my wall plug, 2 presentation clickers, and an adapter for old and new projectors. Why? Piece of mind. I’ve seen facilitators FREAK OUT when they couldn’t get the technology to work. Then their presentations suffer. Even worse, their audience suffers. Early on I decided that I would plan the best I could, build contingencies when possible, and be ready and willing to go on sans technology if required. 

3. Ask yourself, What if others followed me?

As parents and leaders, we wouldn’t mind at all if our kids or employees followed our lead by doing things faster, more efficiently and with better quality. But would we want them to follow us if we were doing something illegal, immoral or unethical? Probably not. That’s why I quit drinking before my older children hit the age when all of their friends started. I began wearing a seat belt when I got pulled over–with my daughter in the car–for not wearing one. After writing me a ticket, the officer said, “Be a better example for your child.” Ouch. I’ve worn my seat belt ever since. I want to be the kind of example that I’d be thrilled to have others follow. Thrilled, not dismayed. I want my happiness and engagement to be memorable and contagious, not the moments when my character waffles and my example leads people astray.


Nothing wastes more time than taking a shortcut to nowhere. So before taking that next exit ramp to a better, quicker or cheaper route, think again. Even better, think BEFORE. Get better at your time management, always have a backup plan, and act with a character high enough for you to want the whole world to follow.


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