If there is a gap between where we are and where we want to go, often the way across is to construct a bridge. But if you ignore the environment the bridge is built in, you risk spectacular collapse, as the engineers of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge learned in 1940. Whether you are building a real bridge, or bridging the gap to your goal you need a span that can withstand the pressures of life; here’s how.
Building on the Cheap
Since 1889 the people on the Kitsap Peninsula had been clamoring for a bridge to cross the Puget Sound so they could get to Tacoma, Washington. Funding constraints and political battles doomed productive efforts until the 1930s.
Finally, after several proposals, planners settled on what they saw as an “elegant design.” What would become the Tacoma Narrows Bridge would be only two lanes wide, and use lighter and slimmer girders than other bridges of its type. These measures finally brought the cost of the structure within acceptable limits. Work began in 1938.
At a cost of $6.4 million, it took only 19 months to complete. Its span of 2,800 feet made it the third longest suspension bridge in the world at the time (behind the George Washington Bridge, and the Golden Gate Bridge). But even before it officially opened, it was clear the bridge was in trouble.
Winds of Change
Winds coursing through the narrows caught the side of the bridge like a sail and caused it to vibrate. The lighter construction of the roadway made it more flexible, and it was common to see the bridge see-sawing up and down, rising and falling several feet with each oscillation. Workmen dubbed it “Galloping Gertie.”
Only four months after it opened, in relatively mild (for the area) 40 mph winds, the bridge roadway began to oscillate, then the roadbed began to twist along its length in a phenomenon known as aeroelastic flutter.
Conditions grew so bad that the last person on the bridge abandoned his car mid span and ran, stumbled, and crawled to safety, fearing for his life.
The amplitude grew more and more violent until suspension cables began to break. Once a few cables had snapped, the cascading effect of the added weight to the other cables led to rapid failure. Nearly all of the central span tumbled 195 feet into the water below.
Here’s what the bridge looked like in it’s final moments, along with the spectacular collapse:
In their effort to build a bridge quickly and cheaply, they had not made it strong enough to survive existing conditions. Washingtonians had to wait another 10 years to get a reliable span; this one they built to last.
Building a Stronger Bridge
When chasing our own goals, to get from where we are to where we want to be, we need a bridge. Even if our goal is clear and our purpose (the “why”) is strong, we still need a sound framework that will withstand the pressures of the environment around us.
If we disregard those pressures, our bridge may not last long enough for us to get to the other side. Here are three ways to build a bridge that will last.
Prioritize it. One of those environmental pressures is “all the rest of your life that is happening.” Whether it’s an unexpected phone call, a car that needs to go into the shop, or a friend who needs some help, there is no predicting when the next unexpected demand on your time will come. But generally, the longer you are awake, the more time there is for one of those things to happen, throw you off track and get your bridge swaying.
So do the important thing first. Set it as a priority in your day and do it as early in the day as possible so you will have best chance of getting it done before that phone call happens.
Make an appointment. The Tacoma bridge builders needed a stronger design to withstand the wind, and so do you. When we have an appointment for something important, we put it on our calendar and we make sure to show up, right? Doctor’s appointment, job interview, a big date? We’re going to track it and do our best to be there. If your goal is important, why would you treat it any differently?
Pick the time you are going to work on your goal, set that time aside on your calendar the same way you would block off time for an appointment, and then make sure you show up. Do what you are supposed to do at the time you are supposed to do it; don’t let the breezes blow you off course.
Go public. We can multiply our ability to stick with something important and at the same time reduce the “life winds” that are blowing if we go public with what we are doing. Tell those important “someones” in your life what you are doing and why, and then ask them to support your efforts to work hard during this priority time.
When you have others help hold you accountable to your plans, you’ll reduce the distractions and increase the support you get from others to see your plans through. Like the massive bolts connecting the girders of your bridge, the entire structure becomes sturdier and you’ll stand a much greater chance of making it across.
Bridging the Gap – The Takeaway
If you are serious about achieving something meaningful, it’s important to start with a crystal clear goal. But then to cross the gap between where you are and where you want to be, you need to build a solid framework, a bridge, to help you get there.
Don’t make the same mistake as the engineers of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and ignore the environment they were working in. The bridge you build needs to be able to withstand the swirling winds of life around you.
When you prioritize the important things, treat that time as an important appointment, and go public with what you are trying to accomplish, you begin to build a bridge that will be strong enough for you to make it across to the other side.
But this is only the beginning of bridging the gap. There are dozens more ways that you can simply but effectively add to that framework and build a bridge that will get you to the other side. If you’d like to learn more about how to do this, be sure to check out the course From Goal Setting to Goal-Getting: How to Build Your Framework for Success.
Ultimately, your success doesn’t just come from being clear about what you want to do. It takes a well-built structure that is strong enough to see you safely and surely to the other side.
Build the bridge first, then cross it!