You’re clear about where you want to go. You made your plans. You’ve started on your journey.
Maybe you landed your dream job, or found your soulmate, or have a vision for how you can make a difference in the world.
So now, you simply need to focus on execution – on implementing your plans. Right?
Sadly, it’s not uncommon that at some point in the future, you might take stock and wonder how you ended up where you are.
Why does that happen? How is it possible to be off course without knowing it?
1. A huge, sudden external shift.
A sudden change in your world can derail you, not just temporarily, but for long after the crisis is over.
Anthony had just started his own business when his wife was diagnosed with cancer. Realizing he needed to be able to devote more attention to take care of his wife and children during this period, he put his new business on hold and return to his previous job.
Years later, long after his wife had returned to full health, he was still with the same company. The momentum of life had propelled him forward and had replaced his original dreams.
2. Team Drift, Leadership Drift, or Personal Drift.
Team drift occurs when a formerly high-performing team loses its focus and capabilities without team members recognizing what is happening. There’s also leadership drift, and drift can occur in your personal life as well.
What happens is you start out with clarity, but stop paying attention and being intentional about your choices and let momentum take over. Drift occurs as a result of a series of small things, each insignificant on its own, the total of which has a cumulative impact.
3. Boiled frog syndrome.
Sometimes you know you’re off course, but it’s only a little bit so you don’t do anything about it.
The longer Barbara worked for her company, the more aware she became of policies that made her uncomfortable. First she discovered they collected information on customers without their knowledge, and she rationalized it. Then she discovered a few more things about the way the treated customers, and again rationalized it. After a few years, she realized the entire atmosphere in the company was oppressive.
It had happened so gradually, she had not recognized she was in hot water – the same way you boil frogs. If you put a frog in a pot of hot water, it will jump out. But if you put it in a pot of cold water and turn on the heat, the water warms up so gradually that the frog just goes to sleep and doesn’t notice that the water is getting hotter and hotter.
4. Never had a sense of direction.
Sometimes you can find you’re off course because you never had a clear course in the first place. You just wake up one day feeling like things aren’t right and have no idea why.
How To Make Sure You Stay On Course
1. Stay conscious, aware of your environment, and intentional about your choices. Stay present. Don’t “go to sleep” on yourself.
2. Be clear about your vision and values.
3. Be ready to readjust. Priorities can change, due to a shift in your environment or within yourself, so revisit them regularly and realign your actions when needed.
4. Stay focused on your vision. When you are deeply connected to a vision, the closer you come to it, the more clear it will become. You will see aspects you had not realized earlier and new opportunities to act on it.
5. Balance both execution AND your vision.
Remember, “Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.” – Japanese proverb
A great article Jesse! So many times there is an unintentional drift that people don’t even know it.
Things can happen in life, and you’ve made people aware of what can happen and how to correct. Great advice for all!!
Great point, Paul. I think that’s the one thing we can count on – things will happen in life. I am reminded that the more deeply we connect with what is really important and the more awake and aware we are, the better prepared we are to make the right choices when things do happen.
Great article Jesse. Its very easy to drift or go with the flow too far if you are not careful.
Thank you, Martin. We are often advised to “go with the flow.” And in the context of accepting, rather than resisting, life’s natural changes, it is good advice. However, the flow can also be like the undercurrents below the surface of the ocean, pulling us in the wrong direction. The challenge is to know the difference between these, and that requires that we be active participants in our lives.
I sure needed to read this today, Jesse. By some providence I read this on the day after I came to realize I’ve allowed my live to become crazy and chaotic because I say yes too much. Believe it or not, being authentically kind, thoughtful, empathetic plus having the heart of a cheerleader can totally mess up navigation and I don’t even recognize the course anymore. Your article speaks truth.
So glad to hear that, Jane. It’s an interesting paradox that we can actually be more helpful when we are able to say no because we then have more available energy for what we say yes to. The river flows because it has banks. A pond is still.
Great post Jesse,
This is one of the topics that interests me greatly. I especially like #3 on your list of ‘stay on course’ suggestions. Regular checkpoints, are vital to insure that we are still moving toward our goal. Course corrections are a normal part of any journey and can easily be accomplished as long as we are aware of the need.
Best regards for your work and thoughts,
So important, Carl. Too many people do this as a once a year event, like annual goal setting or an annual review, rather than incorporating it into their lives. You might enjoy my post 1001 Mid-Course Corrections. Thanks for highlighting this important point.
This post spoke to me, Jesse. Like everyone, I’ve “drifted” or been knocked off course many times in my life. Because I have a personal mission, I’m able to return to it and to ask myself when things happen if they support that mission. Even today – after much deliberation – I turned down an opportunity that would not support that mission, even though there was much in it for me.
The only “add” I might have for your great post is to be kind to yourself when you realize you are off course. It happens, and we can learn from it and move on with new insight!
Kindness is a wonderful “add” – it’s hard to learn and move forward if you’re busy beating yourself up. Instead, I’d suggest congratulating yourself for recognizing that you’ve drifted. Thanks also for sharing your own experience and deepening the conversation, Mary Jo.
Great post, as usual Jesse.
I know is it easier said than done, but, anyway, is it not possible to prevent these situations by alligning our goals to our mission and values, before any other step?
I agree it makes a big difference, Sergio. If you don’t have that alignment, you’re going to be off course right from the start.
But many people think alignment is a step to complete and then move on. Alignment needs to be an ongoing process, not a one-time activity. I like the analogy of sailing. You keep your focus on your destination, but you get there by tacking – by continually monitoring the wind and adjusting your course as needed.
You make a really good point here, it is easy for people and even more so for businesses to get set adrift, by getting caught up in daily activity. It is good for both people and organizations to regularly stop and reflect upon what they are doing so to ensure they are actually going some place they want to.
Such an important point! We need to take time for reflection on a regular basis, both as leaders in organizations and also in our personal lives. The only way to get smarter is to take time out to consider the bigger picture. Thanks for adding to the conversation, Robert.
I see a lot of people in my coaching practice who wake up one morning in mid-life and ask themselves, “How on earth did I get here?” It is usually by focusing on the urgent and ignoring the important. Thanks for your insights. Several of my clients are getting links to this post today!
Great point, Joel. It’s easy to get caught up with what’s urgent and not even recognize there is a distinction between urgent and important.
ps. You might enjoy this true story: Alfred’s Wake Up Call.
Great post Jesse. It is so important to consciously look where you are now, relative to where you want to go and ensure that your actions will take you in the required direction (or intended destination). Stop, Look, Correct, Take Action. It’s something I have learnt to cherish and was taught this approach using an aeroplane as an example. What people take for granted is an aeroplane takes flight and heads in a set course to destination. Truth is, the flight plan can change before the plane even finishes the ascent as the conditions when the plane actually takes off are actually different from those forecast when the plan was drafted.
Excellent example of why it’s so important to continually monitor where you are in relation to where you want to go. Thanks for sharing it, Thabo!
When one is planning (before execution), one must establish a decision making tree, this is: “what if” what if …and “what if”
Of course this only minimizes the risk.
Contingency planning definitely helps because it forces you to consider there might be changes that need to be taken into account. I think the biggest risk is in not continuing to ask the “what if” questions during execution. Thanks for raising this point, Alejandro.
Very nice post, Jesse! Definitely helped me identify the drift – I have been afflicted by “Inertia” – the comfort feel of being in one organization for the last 19 years and nothing burning under my rear! I am now re-visiting my priorities, so this really comes at the right time!
Thank you so much for writing this post!
So glad to hear that, Sudhir. Wishing you the best with your ventures!
Oh, additionally read “Alfred’s Wake Up Call” as well. Great story!
I am always reminded of Robin Sharma’s book “Who will cry when I die”. We, in the IT industry, run so much that we don’t stop to measure any impact we are making on our life or on the lives of others. More often than not, the things we consider so important pale into insignificance 6 months down the line.
I would love to be at a point where I can turn around, look at a significant positive impact to someone and say “I did that! I helped that person overcome his/her troubles”. The other person does not have to acknowledge it but these are the small things that will bring meaning to my life (as I see it).
Appreciate you providing the link in this post or I may well have missed that lovely story and the associated messages!
Thank you, Sudhir. It’s one of my favorite posts.
The last chapter of my book Full Steam Ahead! is titled “From Success to Significance.” It sounds like that’s a chapter of your own life you are looking at writing now.