Control Your Efforts, Not the Outcomes

General Eisenhower addressing American paratroopers on 5-June-1944 before the Battle of Normandy.

During World War II, President Dwight Eisenhower (1890–1969) was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces. On 2-June-1944, he issued a memo to his troops just before the Allied invasion of Normandy:

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely. … The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle.

We will accept nothing less than full Victory! Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

Under Eisenhower’s leadership, the Allied forces had meticulously planned Operation Overlord for over a year. For months, Eisenhower’s troops not only rehearsed their D-Day roles and routines, but also went to exceptional lengths to uphold the secrecy of their plans and deceive the German forces about troop movement. The Allied forces even plotted to cut off all roads and rail lines leading to the coast of Normandy and thus block reinforcements for the German troops.

Some things are simply beyond your control—you can only do your best

Despite all the strategizing and training, the success of the Allied invasion depended on the weather across the English Channel—their success essentially rested on something beyond their control.

The Allied aircrafts sought air superiority and would be unable to locate targets if low clouds covered Normandy. In addition, if the tides were high or the seas heavy, the troops would be unable to launch their landing crafts. The success or failure of their landings hinged entirely on suitable weather.

Eisenhower tentatively planned to send his troops across the English Channel on 5-June. The day before, however, the troops predicted cloudy skies, rain, and heavy seas that were inappropriate for the invasion. Eisenhower decided to postpone the invasion by a day, when the forecasted weather was to be more suitable than on 5-June, but not necessarily perfect for his plans. If he did not invade on 6-June, the tides would not favor an invasion for another two weeks, which would possibly give the Germans enough time to get wind of the Allies’ plan.

Dwight Eisenhower and the Invasion of Normandy

Eisenhower gave the marching orders for 6-June. It was then that he realized that the success of the invasion was no longer in his hands. Its outcome depended on 160,000 allied troops, thousands of commanders, and hundreds of lieutenants. Eisenhower had done everything in his power to coordinate their efforts and create conditions conducive to the mission’s success. After issuing his orders, all he could do was let those conditions come to fruition on their own terms. After all his efforts, he could not control the outcomes—he let go of the outcomes.

In time, the hard-fought cross-channel invasion was successful—Eisenhower won his wager with the weather. The invasion of Normandy proved to be a turning point in World War II. Despite formidable obstacles and thousands of casualties, the Allied troops prevailed over the German forces in landing at the coast of Normandy. Within days, Allied forces quickly consolidated at the beachheads and built up troops. Within two months, they broke out from their beachheads in Normandy and advanced on the Axis powers. The Allies liberated Europe when German troops surrendered unconditionally on 8-May-1945.

Control Your Efforts---Not the Outcomes

Idea for Impact: Focus on effort and lower your expectations of the outcomes

The wise among us understand what’s within their control and what’s not. They recognize that “you win some, you lose some.”

Success and results are not often within your span of control. However, you can control your effort and ability to create the conditions for success. Focus on your efforts, then let those conditions unfold.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna instructed Arjuna, “set thy heart upon thy work but never its reward” (verse 2:47.) And the Buddha counseled his followers to lower their expectations in order to achieve happiness, a belief that is not without proof in the hurly-burly world we live in.

Moreover, even if you can, don’t go overboard with your efforts. Push yourself to the max only when the stakes are big enough. As I mentioned in a previous article, a 110% effort may not fetch more rewards than an 80% or a 90% effort.

Be committed to your job, but don’t overly invest in it.

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