Why I was Totally Wrong about the Total Eclipse

And What My Mistake Teaches about What Matters Most

A few weeks before the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, a friend asked if I was going to drive 4 hours north into Wyoming to see it. That’s the first I’d heard of the eclipse. I replied that if a 4-hour drive would allow for a total eclipse, then I had to imagine that no drive at all would allow me to see most of it.

Sun's corona during total eclipse

The moon, with the sun’s corona around it, during a total solar eclipse

A little research confirmed that I’d be able to see 92% of the eclipse from where I live. It couldn’t possibly be worth an 8+ hour round-trip drive just to see 8% more of the eclipse. Or so I reasoned.

I was Wrong about the Total Eclipse

But I was wrong.

In the days following the eclipse, those I know who saw the total eclipse raved about it. From the eerie darkness during it to seeing the sun’s corona, they all agreed it was one of the most spectacular sights they had ever seen. And they all vowed to do whatever it takes to see the next total solar eclipse in the United States in 2024.

What I had seen of the eclipse from outside of Denver was not at all uncool. Daylight dimmed, and through my snazzy glasses I saw 92% of the sun blocked by the moon.

It was really neat. But not jaw dropping, life-pausing neat, as it seems to have been for those who witnessed the total eclipse.

The Mistake I Made

The mistake I made, in advance of the eclipse, was to think about it from the perspective of efficiency.

You’re probably familiar with the 80/20 rule, about which I’ve written before. Viewing the eclipse struck me as falling under the 80/20 rubric. 80% of the benefit of an eclipse could probably be enjoyed with 20% of the effort, I figured. In my case, it seemed even better: I could reap 92% of the benefit with 0% of the effort.

But what I didn’t realize at the time is that a total eclipse is an all-or-nothing event. You can see part of an eclipse, but you can’t see part of a total eclipse. Either you see the total eclipse or you don’t. To see just 99% of it is not to see it. With just 1% of the sun showing—I found out later—the sun is as bright as 4,000 moons. The last 1% makes all the difference.

What the Total Eclipse Teaches about What Matters Most

The total eclipse provides a nice analogy for what matters most in life.

Take, for instance, fatherhood. Is the goal to be an 80% good dad in 20% of the time? Or even a 92% good dad in 0% of the time, if that were possible? No, the goal is to be a good dad—a “total” good dad.

It doesn’t mean one will ever achieve “totality,” of course, when aiming for what matters most. But aiming for it and not achieving it is very different from not aiming for it in the first place. Not aiming for it is to make the mistake I made in regard to the eclipse: to assume that something other than total is worth settling for.

The lesson of the eclipse—by way of analogy—is simple to understand but difficult to live: When it comes to what matters most, we should go all-in.

Question: What other areas of life are worthy of an “all-in” response rather than an 80/20 calculation? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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