Reevaluating important vs. urgent

Lt. Col. Lewis Sorvillo, 22nd Space Operations Squadron commander. (Courtesy photo)

Lt. Col. Lewis Sorvillo, 22nd Space Operations Squadron commander. (Courtesy photo)


While recently unpacking from yet another permanent change of station, I came across a box filled with things I have been carrying around since my early days in the Air Force.  This box contains mementos, pictures and a file filled with articles and other clippings that for one reason or another had resonated with me. 


Flipping through the different clippings, I happened upon one of my favorites; a commentary written 20 years ago by U.S. Army Col. Mark Blum. In the piece entitled “Important vs. Urgent,” Colonel Blum reflects on his career and offers what he would do differently if he had to do it all over again. 


Approaching 24 years in the military myself, I reread the article and for the first time ever, found myself reflecting on my own career.  Knowing for certain I have fewer years in the Air Force ahead of me than I do behind me, I was inspired to come up with my own list of desired do-overs.

Sadly, and despite having Blum’s advice at my fingertips for years, my list too closely resembles his.      


For starters, I would not have missed as much time with my family as I did. From school activities to sporting events, dinners at home and trips near and far, I missed more than my share. Of course, there were instances when that was unavoidable; however, far too many times I simply chose to tend to work “commitments” because I thought I was doing what was expected of me. I thought I was putting service before self.


I would have tried harder to leave my work at work.  I so often carried bottled-up stress from the office, allowing it to detract from what should have been enjoyable times with my family.    


I would have been more patient and understanding with those closest to me.  Why I found it easier to accept last minute changes, minor mistakes and oversights, and personal inconveniences at work than at home is equally incomprehensible and indefensible.    


I would have made better use of leave afforded to me, choosing to travel back home to see family more regularly instead of hastily planning leave as every year, September 30, approached simply to avoid losing it.


I would not have made my wife wait 20 years for me to take her to ballroom dance lessons.  Year after year I had an excuse, and year after year she pretended to understand.  Eventually, I relented.  Who knew I would like it so much, let alone be so darn good at it.


Lastly, I would have asked for help when I needed it.  Our middle child has struggled for years with severe mental illness which at its worst threatened my marriage. The well-being of my family and my child’s very own life.  Those are words that to this day I have not spoken out loud outside of familial circles. 


Like so many others, I made the situation about me, internalizing how it would make me look as a parent and as an officer.  We talk a great deal about Comprehensive Airman Fitness, about taking care of ourselves and seeking help when we need it.  During that time, I would have practiced what I so often have preached.   


The demands placed on us by virtue of our service are many and great; they are such that we must never allow personal desires, agendas and comforts to take priority over accomplishing our assigned mission or the needs of those under our charge.  However, service before self does not mean forsaking our responsibilities as spouses, parents, friends, siblings, sons, daughters and contributing members of society.


Far too many times I have lost sight of that. 


I have been carrying Blum’s words around with me for over 20 years.  If I had to do it over again, I would have referred to them more often.  As he so artfully said, “the object for all of us is to make sure we run out of career before we run out of family.”  So put in your leave paperwork, surround yourself with friends and family, leave your work at work and take a trip, or maybe go dancing.


For goodness sake, do not wait until September to do it.