Have you ever been so focused on achieving your goals that you’ve run people over in the process?

I sure have. In today’s workplaces, it’s more important than ever to meet our goals, and we’re under lots of pressure to be productive and efficient. Unfortunately, this can cause plenty of interpersonal problems, since we all act differently when we’re under pressure.

Here’s one illustration of what not to do. A friend of mine became very unpopular at work by being so focused on achieving her own goals that she treated co-workers as distractions! Unfortunately, this story didn’t end well. She completed her own tasks efficiently, but couldn’t understand why the rest of the team resented her. The situation caused so much turmoil in her department that she ended up leaving the company.

So how do we avoid this pitfall and its various permutations? Particularly for people of faith, how can we achieve legitimate goals – and love one another like Christ loves us?

One of the cool aspects of being Catholic is having so many tremendous role models, past and present. When it comes to achieving goals and valuing people, one of the best examples I can think of is Blessed John Paul II.

Andreas Widmer, a Swiss Guard during the pontificate of John Paul II, wrote an outstanding book entitled The Pope & The CEO: John Paul II’s Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard in which he describes an astonishing interaction with the Pope. Andreas was a young man at the time, spending his first Christmas away from home. On Christmas Eve, as the Pope went about his duties (achieving goals), he noticed that Andreas was new and immediately recognized Andreas’ sadness. The Pope took just a few seconds to speak with Andreas, precious seconds that Andreas recalls vividly years later. Here’s how Andreas describes the incident in the book:

“That was all I needed. Someone had noticed my pain, someone had cared, and that someone was the Pope himself. In that moment, I felt comforted. Now, looking back, I feel amazed. Here was the leader of a billion Catholics, at the height of some of his fiercest battles, occupied with the most overwhelming and impossible problems of the century, yet he was still sensitive enough to perceive the emotions of a twenty-year-old guard whose sole job was to blend into the background as he passed.”

This story (along with many others in the book) has inspired – and convicted – me ever since the first time I read it. I tend to be… ahem… a little on the preoccupied side, sort of like an absent-minded professor minus the Ph.D. Think about the goals of Blessed John Paul II. They were enormous goals! Can you imagine the impact of someone with such goals taking an interest in you personally? Even for a few seconds?

Yet on a lesser scale, this is what we’re called to do. Achieving goals is important. At the same time, people are the primary goal of our lives. Serving people, honoring people, sometimes just noticing people. And getting our work done! For some of us, the balancing act doesn’t really come naturally. But we need to do our best.

Our work serves legitimate human needs, and by treating others as precious to God, no matter who they are, we honor our Lord. Let’s pray for one another, and do our best today to remember Blessed John Paul II’s example. Let’s take a few precious seconds today as we go about achieving our goals and reflect the love of Christ to someone else. After all, serving people is the goal of our work.