William Liao

January 8, 2022

load shedding & goal sacrificing

On January 15th, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 from New York City to Charlotte, North Carolina, was cut short when the plane struck a flock of birds resulting in the plane losing all engine power. 

Thanks to the expertise and split-second decision-making by the plane’s captain, Chelsey Sullenberger (who also goes by “Sully”), he successfully landed the plane in the Hudson River and saved all 155 passengers aboard the plane. 

When asked about his thought process as he was figuring out how to respond to the near-catastrophic situation, Sully remarked: “… I quickly set priorities, I load shed — pared down this problem to its essential elements — did the few things that had to be done, did them very well, and I was willing to goal sacrifice. I knew that the highest priority was to save lives, and I was more than willing to give up trying to save the airplane very early on in order to do that.” 

There are two interesting terms of note in Sully’s response: load shedding and goal sacrificing. 

Load shedding is when a power company decides to switch off the power supply to specific areas in instances where power consumption is outpacing power production. For example, to load shed, a power company might decide to cut off power to a factory to ensure that power is still running at a hospital. 

Goal sacrificing
is when you recognize that not all of your goals can be met and that in order to achieve some goals, you must forego other ones. 

Though it’s not every day (or ever) that you’re going to be in a situation even remotely as dire or intense as what Captain Sully encountered, his experience and thought process can nonetheless inform how you think about your life and goals. 

For example, if you’re feeling burnt out because you’re giving more energy than you have, the concept of load shedding — the idea that you must pull out of certain engagements — is helpful. 

Similarly, if you find yourself with a million goals — wanting to do it all (who doesn’t?) — you might find yourself needing to goal sacrifice, to identify what goals matter to you the most, and making the tough decision to set aside other goals so you can focus. 

The irony of trying to do everything is that, in many cases, you end up accomplishing very little. There’s little chance that Sully could have successfully saved his 155 passengers if he was simultaneously focused on saving the plane and everyone on board. 

In many cases, the most effective and reasonable path forward is to be equally decisive about what you will focus on and what you will not focus on.