Teeter Totters

When I came across this line, it was in a recent interview between Esquire politics blogger Charles P. Pierce and U.S. Senator Angus King, an Independent from Maine who caucuses with Democrats. The context, of course, was the coronavirus pandemic and the handling — or mishandling, depending on your politics — of same. King was connecting the free-floating dots between some notion of a grand plan to address this crisis, and the daily scutwork needed to carry out that plan.

But my mind began to wander other paths, as it is wont to do these days. I began thinking of all the ways in which that statement — “Execution is as important as vision.” — is true, and how often we glorify the vision and ignore the execution, or take it for granted.

It was Mother’s Day weekend, so I thought of the many, many times my quite visionary mother (she raised five children, in tough circumstances, to do just fine) reminded me that nothing gets done without some elbow grease: Floors don’t get clean, college doesn’t get paid for, and relationships don’t last without work. I thought of the many journalists and students I’ve worked with who have great ideas for stories, but struggle to land them because the work between idea and publication is not always glamorous. I thought of a lifetime of cliches that are grounded in common sense: All hat and no cattle. All talk and no walk. I thought of the boss who once told me that he valued me because “You’ll do dishes” and meant it as a compliment. I even thought of Yoda and his famous quip: “Do or do not. There is no try.” (I’m still puzzling over that one, because without “try,” I don’t know how we get to “do.”)

And I thought of the many bright lights who should be walking across stages, clutching diplomas, and tossing caps — but won’t be this graduation season. The gymnasiums will be shuttered and the podiums silent. Any bromides will be passed along by an email or online chat or, for the lucky few, handwritten in a card with a bit of cash stuffed in the envelope.

Then it struck me: Were I to offer some counsel to a fretful graduate, a struggling reporter, a business owner or a political leader, I could do little better than to remind them: “Execution is as important as vision.”

The first without the second is toil without purpose. The second without the first is empty air.

And apart from sentence, consider the pure craft: It’s a brief and beautifully balanced sentence, with equal weight given to “execution” as the first word and “vision” as the last, like a teeter-totter resting on the fulcrum of “important.”

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