A ship leaves New York Harbor bound for Great Britain and it’s one degree off course. What happens when it gets to the other side?



Many of us give up before we start
because we’re reluctant to make commitments.

One of the hardest things any of us can try to do is just sit back and do nothing. Let’s not equate that past statement with laziness. No. Sustained laziness is actually hard work. It’s not as passive as it’s reputed to be. I am referring to doing nothing because we are listening first, then deciding what we will do and then doing something about what we’ve just decided.

Teachable moment #3 occurred at a pivotal point in a client meeting. I had spent an inordinate amount of time trying to explain why the path that the client wanted us to take wouldn’t work in the long term, even though it sounded smart at the outset. Dan Hall, a senior exec and really smart guy, was serving in the capacity of lead manager on the project. During a break in the discussion, he leaned in and summed up the point I had been trying to make for twenty minutes in the sentence and question that make up teachable moment #3.

It was a dual learning experience for me because it crystallized a question that I often ask myself, my partners, my clients, my friends and my family. “What happens if this works?” Fill in the blanks to replace “this” with whatever you’re planning to do. Dan’s simple summary reminded me that there are no short cuts in life.


So many of us give up on the journey of our dreams instead of plotting a course and starting along our way because we are afraid or reluctant to make real commitments. We want everything now. We want everything to be good. We want the good things to last forever – or at the very least, we want our good thing to last until we get tired of it and are ready to move on to the next good thing. And, we want to do as little as humanly possible to acquire it.

However, if we think about the things in our life that have really mattered – the things that we’re proudest of when we take a moment to reflect – very few of those things were easy. Those things mattered and made us proud because we believed that we did everything right or we learned a valuable life lesson, even when things did not work out.


These teachable moments are supposed to be related to business, but as a client and mentor pointed out to me early on, “business is the business of people.” You can read all the business books in the bookstore and watch the financial networks until you know every stock’s symbol and performance by heart but eventually you will need to explain to someone why their job has to go away, or, worse yet, ask someone why your own job and contribution is no longer required.

When you’re sitting across the table from someone that’s about to lose their job (or you’ve just discovered that “someone” is you), watching as the pivotal scene mental anguish scene from “What Will I Do Now?” Theater plays out in real time across their eyes (or within your own mind), you realize that the number of degrees you’ve sailed off of your original course really does matter. And you realize in that instant that life matters.

You start to make judgements about the missed dinners and birthday parties. You question the value  of the late nights and attaboys. You need a course correction. You realize that life is more than showing up at the same place five days a week and crossing the days off your calendar until your vacation.

You may have never been in the specific situations described here, but if you can go for months, weeks or days without speaking to a close friend or family member, and it doesn’t bother you, then you too need a course correction. Somewhere, somehow, something has gone terribly wrong.

We spend so much time with our work friends that many of them become our best friends. Yet, I am always surprised when one of my friends asks me how I could and can work with one of my other friends that they “do not care for.” My answer is always, “they never did anything wrong to me.”

As I look back, I think that it has more to do with the course that I decided to set my life upon and the people that I’ve met along the way. I have certainly done some things in my life that I would do differently if I had the chance (at least I want to BELIEVE that I would do them differently) but, thankfully, that does not include excluding people from my life.


Since the pendulum of poor treatment swings in all directions, I count it a blessing to have so many friends and acquaintances, including those that may not share my view of our relationship but have still put up with me. But enough about me. This post is about us and whether or not we have a plan. Further, it’s about what we’re doing to make our plans realities.

Using Dan’s sage counsel as a starting point, I find that the following tips help to keep me on course or help to point out when I am hopelessly lost:

  1. Start at the end and work backwards. As a general rule, we cannot stumble upon the results we expect. We have to start by creating the possibility of opportunity and preparing ourselves for the opportunities that may never be realized. If we don’t know what we’re specifically trying to achieve, how will we know if we are close or far away from achieving it? By defining the objective, we clarify the scope and magnitude of the planning required so that we can accurately gauge and set expectations.
  2. Stop whining. Ask anyone who has ever succeeded at anything and they will tell you that, at minimum, the success of the outcome is proportionate to the level of effort applied to even the smallest tasks. So stop complaining that life is hard and thankless. We don’t deserve to be rewarded or recognized for everything that we do – especially the really hard stuff. The people we respect most are the ones whose efforts are recognized even though they did not actively seek or want recognition and accolades.
  3. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. There are so few really original ideas in the world that we’re better off abiding by the rule that there are no original ideas in the world. If you’ve come up with something brilliant, know that some other hard thinker just had the same idea as you a few minutes ago. It’s a race to implementation, not a contest of imagination. As a client once told me, “There are guys out there making millions of dollars selling pencils. The great fortunes of the world are not made by creating unusual things. They are generated by providing simple things to everyday people.” Find a success story and copy it. Then improve upon it to make it your own.
  4. Stop whining. Oh. I think I said that one already…
  5. Learn how to listen. Listen how to learn. No matter how good we tell ourselves we are at something, there will always be someone else that is better at it than we will ever be. Always, always, always. Don’t allow the effort used to prove how smart you are cloud your judgement and perception and keep you from listening for and acting upon great ideas or suggestions from others. Great ideas can come from anywhere.
  6. Everything in life is a project. A project has a beginning a middle and an end. If we can’t tell where in the project lifecycle our personal journey is at any given moment, we need to do some course correcting. We know where we are today. We know where we want to go. One thing’s for sure: For the vast majority of us, buying a lottery ticket every week (a dollar and a dream) is not going to get us where we want to be.
  7. Learn to appreciate your successes AND your failures. We never fail completely. Even when things don’t go as planned, something is salvageable. Learning to understand and embrace failure contributes to success. Remember, a ship’s captain has to be prepared to navigate through storms as well as sail around them.
  8. Plan the next journey, including a course correction if one is needed. One of my future teachable moments comes from David Bradsher, a friend and, like Dan, an incredibly smart guy. He said that a bad business is a lot like a bad relationship. We know that we should get out and find something better, but after awhile, we find ourselves staying anyway. Not because of the promise of the future but because of the time that’s already been invested.Sometimes fixing something (course correcting) means cessation. Not leaving. Cessation. There’s a difference. When we leave, we abandon everything that had to do with where we were. When we cease, we take the best of what was there with us as we plan our next journey, which means that we aren’t starting from square one.
  9. My final comment on this? You guessed it: Stop whining!