Photo Credit: Jonathan Smith,
Photo Credit: Jonathan Smith,

Recently, a metaphor came to mind while working through goals. The metaphor, you ask?

A ship sailing in the ocean.

I know, you’ve heard this one before. But there are a few points of view that you may not have explored just yet.

Let’s start by considering the ship to be your experience of the present moment. This is where you are right now. The destination for the ship represents your goals. And the reason this metaphor emerged was that a lot of focus is put on the destination – the goal – at the expense of appreciating the present moment.

Of course, I can’t even count how many times I’ve done the same thing. I obsessed over where I wanted to be while the present moment kept passing by– along with any other details, such as that private island with buried treasure just off the starboard side. 😉

Sometimes, we detail our goals beautifully like an accurate map. But I ask you, how much time do you need to spend staring at the map and how much time do you need to spend on controlling the ship? When the seas are calm, the winds are blowing steady, and all’s well, it can be tempting to submerge yourself deep into the map. You may even feel anxious that you’re not at your goal yet.

What happens when a storm emerges?

The map becomes irrelevant and we explore our choices:

1. You keep the ship in its present condition and try to sail straight on through the storm.

Unfortunately, the downside’s that the storm could rip the sails, water could flood the hold through open doors, loose items can go flying around or overboard (including other humans).

2. You observe the storm on the horizon and reconfigure the ship to weather the storm.

You turn into the waves, pull up the sails, strap down any loose ends or objects, ensure everyone has a life preserver, and watch the seas carefully for all changes.

3. You wait and react only when the storm is upon you (think about how often we work from a reactive place).

You quickly reconfigure the ship and prioritize what to change first: roll up the sails? Secure the bulkheads and doors? Strap down loose items? Turn into the waves? Etc…

None of these options are bad or wrong, but each one has a distinct consequence. Yet, all of them have the potential for struggle, loss, and pain. But we can see that option two gives the best chances for successfully sailing smoothly through the storm with minimal suffering.

After the storm, you assess where you are and course correct from there.

Bringing the Ship Back Home

So how can we sail towards our goals in a way that flows more effortlessly?

The goal’s important for setting the direction of the ship – this is your WHAT. Without the goal, you’re just wandering the ocean.

HOW you arrive at your destination is a windy, varied, and unpredictable path. Knowing this, you may choose to stay present, focused, aware of your present situation, and be flexible for the inevitable changes.

WHY you chose this destination comes from a number of places. Perhaps it’s a place that you fear missing, or a place that someone else told you was important to go, or maybe it’s a place you feel your heart pulling you towards – that there’s a purpose for going in a direction, even if you’re not sure what it’ll be like once you get there.

Again, none of those motivating factors are good or bad, but consider which one could be more fulfilling, more empowering, more effortless.

Consider This T.E.A.

(T)hought: I chose my goals based on my values, my unique strengths, and my purpose.

(E)motion: I feel joy, excitement, and fear.

(A)ction: I check in with my goal often, but spend most of my energy focusing on where I am right here and right now. I prepare for storms as I see them approaching, I stay loose, flexible, dynamic, and open to the unpredictable events on my path as they unfold.

Parting Questions

  • Where’s your ship pointing right now?
  • How well does that destination align with where you truly want to go?
  • What destination would fill you with joy, excitement, and fear?

“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.”

-Grace Hopper