Reading Time: 5 mins
“Direction not intention determines destination.” – Andy Stanley
Course and Heading
These are two terms I heard more than anything else while serving on a ship during my time in the military. They are easily conflated because they appear to be similar. Heading refers to the direction a ship is pointing, while the course is the direction the ship is traveling through the water. Notice the difference? It taught me that my intention might be to go north (heading) but I might be going east (course). Pastor Craig Groeschel once said, “All people end up somewhere in life, but few end up there on purpose.”
I believe that we all have good intentions (heading) but our daily decisions and actions (course) run in direct opposition to those intentions. And we end up in a place we never intended after years of decisions and actions that led us to the wrong destination. Why does this difference or gap exist? Most of the time we are simply trying to get from one moment to the next without ever stopping to consider the implications of our decisions and actions in the long term. We rarely ask, “How will this action impact my life next year or the year after that?” Short term success may be the result of a decision or action. But if the long term benefit is non-existent, it might be time to pump the brakes and reconsider the direction you are about to embark on. This is especially difficult in an instant gratification driven world. This simple pause to consider can keep us from a life sinking in regret. Hopefully, the cautionary story of Nick Leeson will help these words sink deeper.
Nick had the best of intentions (heading) and he backed it up with the right decisions and actions (course). He was so dependable that his seniors trusted him and gave him promotion after promotion. Then Nick started taking serious risks that started losing money. To cover up his miscues he began to defraud his company little by little. Nick still had good intentions but his actions took him down a path that would later bankrupt his organization and land him in prison.
The best way to ensure that your intentions, decisions, and actions are in proper alignment is to periodically check on the next three things to keep you on course. This same periodic check will prevent your life from running aground.
1. Your Destination
Where do you want to end up? Remember, we all end up somewhere. And if we don’t know where we are going, we might not like where we end up.
A lot has been said about enjoying the journey. I am all for that. But a journey without a destination is simply wandering. Even worse is a journey that leads to a fateful destination, like a prison, in the case of Nick Leeson. If you have ever planned a trip, the first and most important input is usually the destination. Without this important piece, you are left with an aimless existence at best. Awareness of the destination is part of what makes us enjoy the journey and at times endure it. The latter was true of Harriet Tubman, the American abolitionist who escaped slavery and subsequently rescued other slaves and helped them experience freedom. The journey was treacherous but her and the slaves tolerated it because freedom awaited them.
Never lose sight of your destination or goal. As Les Brown advises, “Review your goals twice a day to stay focused on achieving them.” Leeson lost focus and it cost him years in prison. Yes, the journey will have hardships and struggles like Tubman freeing the slaves. It will also be enjoyable at times. But your destination not only keeps you focused in a world of distractions, but it also helps you to stick to your plan.
2. Your Plan
Leeson was on course for a great career until he changed his plan one decision and action at a time. By deviating from the right plan, he compromised his future. Sometimes we abandon our plans because we compare our behind the scenes to someone else’s highlight reel. We get consumed with how well others are doing and ditch our plans thus forfeiting our future. When Harriet escaped slavery, she was convinced not to go back, but she had a plan and had made a promise to return and free her family and friends.
Roughly a year ago I set a goal to finish my first marathon. It was Mt. Everest to me. But I broke down the destination into a monthly plan that culminated in successfully reaching the goal later in the year. Without a plan, a goal or destination, although greatly desired, remains out of reach. Executable plans, on the other hand, close the distance between where you are and the destination you seek. What is your plan to reach where you are going? Is it executable? Besides your destination and plan, your means plays an integral part in keeping your course and heading aligned.
3. Your Means
Leeson and Tubman used different means and both ended up in different destinations. For Tubman, it was freedom for herself and other slaves. But for Leeson, it was a cold prison cell in Singapore. While Leeson employed deceptive means which led to fraud, Tubman used determination, resourcefulness, ingenuity, trust in God, and loyalty.
The means we use to get to our destination matters. Keeping your character intact should be at the top of your list as you execute your plan to reach your destination. As best selling author Kindra Hall once said, “No goal is worth sacrificing your dignity and values. Ever.” Along your journey, there will be tempting opportunities to shortcut or cheat your way to your goal or destination. Resist these temptations. Cutting corners is the surest way to sabotage everything you have worked hard for. Shortcuts may get you there sooner but your stay won’t be long or enjoyable. Instead, use the means of sincerity, integrity, courage, civility, honesty, kindness, humility, service, and caring for others on your life’s journey.
Final thought: I am not sure what is ahead for your life or mine. There are many uncertainties that we must face. But by periodically checking your destination, plan, and means, hope will remain intact no matter what the journey brings your way.
Keep on keeping on!