Keeping your boat afloat (and headed in the right direction)

I have often heard the phrase “whatever floats your boat” and never gave it much thought.  During a recent period of reflection I gave the boat metaphor some more thought and found that it might be a good way to describe each one of us in our lives and our careers.  Let me take a few moments today to describe what I know about boats and keeping them afloat and headed in the right direction.  By adopting this kind of mindset I think each one of us might have a better idea of what we are trying to accomplish and what direction we are taking in our lives.

My nautical knowledge is negligible, but I think this analogy will be simple enough that any one of us can understand.  Let’s use the simple picture of a rowboat to get started:

rowing a boat

There are a few key items to keep in mind when rowing a boat across a body of water:

  • Where are you going?

  • What/who is in the boat?

  • What are the conditions around you?

  • What is your timetable or schedule?

Let me compare the items above with a simple SWOT analysis one might use in a strategic planning activity:

S-Strengths (internal)  What do you have or possess that benefits or makes you better or stronger

W-Weaknesses (internal)  What issues do you currently have that may impede your progress?

O-Opportunities (external)  What is going on in the market around you that will affect your progress in a positive manner

T-Threats (external)  What is happening in the external environment that could challenge or keep you from reaching your intended goal

Back to the boat; Strengths could include your skill and experience in rowing and also in using the equipment.  Weaknesses would include your lack of the items listed above as well as the state of your overall physical and mental fitness (these could be a strength also).  Opportunities could include a tail wind or a favorable current headed in the direction you are headed.  Threats might entail a headwind or current that opposes your direction.  One other factor to consider on the internal side is the load you are carrying in the boat.  If you are strong and light in weight, that load is minimal.  If you are not as strong and larger in girth, the load could be more formidable.

For myself and many others I know and work with, we never give enough thought to thinking about the four questions listed above about direction, load, conditions and schedule.  Each of these play a key role in determining our ability to complete the tasks we set forth to accomplish our goals.  I would venture to say that many of us may be rowing in circles rather than taking into account our internal and external challenges (weaknesses and threats).

rowing in a circle

One other factor to consider is that I am only talking about rowing your own boat.  When you are leading others, the ability to know the internal and external challenges and strengths/opportunities is even more important because your decisions affect others as well as yourself.

What should you do to keep your boat afloat?  Here are a few thoughts?

  • Understand the condition of your boat?  Is it seaworthy and is it rigged appropriately for the journey ahead?  Do you have the proper skills, knowledge and experience to undertake the journey you are about to embark upon?
  • What is the load in your boat?  Are you trying to move to much of a load and do you need to consider “lightening your load”? 
  • Do you know your destination?  How are you checking your progress?  How do you know your career destination and what intermediate goals have you set to reach the ultimate destination?
  • How will the external environment affect your journey?  Are there head or tail winds?  What does the job market hold for your targeted role?  Is the demand high or is the role in a declining mode?  The worst feeling of all is rowing hard to a destination that holds no promise when you arrive.

None of us wishes to set off on a journey that does not reach the promised land.  Columbus had some idea of where he was going, but he also had Faith in his belief that going west would help him reach the east based on the belief that the earth was round.  Having a strong Faith in our Lord is also a component I encourage each voyager to have as they row each day toward their career goal.

My prayer for you is calm seas, a tail wind and a clear view toward your intended destination.

Best wishes for a smooth journey!