Whilst on the beach last week at home in Devon I came across a load of these small jelly fish washed up on the tide, I later found out that they were called, ‘By The Wind Sailor’ jellyfish and they originate in warmer seas but can end up being blown onto the South West coast – et voila!


Now, other than being incredible to look at, the fact that they have drifted for potentially thousands of miles completely at the mercy of the wind and the swell I found a bit mind blowing, mainly because it resonated with something I had been thinking about for a while. The difference between having a clear direction and the impulsion to move in that direction (driving) having a broad direction but no real impulsion (steering) and having no direction or impulsion (drifting).  It also coincided with several recent conversations with people on a similar theme – help Rich, ‘I am stuck and don’t know where or what to do next’!  Now unlike the jellyfish who really were stuck on the beach (especially if the next tide was a lower tide) we humans always have choices, they feel limited and sometimes non-existent, but we do have them.  As Sheldon Kopp wrote – “you are free to do whatever you want. You need only face the consequences.”

I have always been a great advocate of the fact that ‘more people spend less time planning their lives than they do a trip to Tesco’ and ‘if you don’t have a plan then you end up as part of someone else’s, and they didn’t write their plan for you!’  As a result, a lot of the coaching work I do is aimed at helping people to be more intentional about their lives and take greater control over the speed and direction of travel.  However, the pandemic, my ongoing personal challenges and the implications on my business, my mental health and my relationships have made me reflect a little more about this approach and I have recognised that the shortest distance between two points maybe a straight line, but sometimes it is a broken line and sometimes that line just plain disappears for a time, and that is fine too!


The conversations I alluded to above were both centred on a dissatisfaction with current working circumstances (people leave Leaders not organisations) and a dawning realisation that actually, ‘I have no idea what I want to do next’.  Life can be (and is for so many people) a series of travelators – school transfers to 6th Form, 6th Form transfers to Uni, Uni transfers to work and the first job leads to a step up and so on and so on – then some event comes along and you realise that you are a Marketeer, Consultant, Business Analyst, Administrator, Senior Manager..…………. (fill in as appropriate) and have been for the last X years, but now you come to think about it, you are not actually sure if that is what you enjoy, what you wanted or what you want to continue doing? But by now you have probably racked up a series of commitments and external pressures (family, lifestyle, routine, expectations) that all support and are supported by your career choice.  I think the biggest challenge or issue with this scenario is the lack of self-compassion and kindness with which we treat ourselves – we believe we are broken, the odd one out and there is often a correlating degradation of confidence and self-belief (understandably).  So the first actual point I would make is – wherever you find yourself, be kinder, you are only human and you have been doing your best, give yourself a break. 

Which brings me back to the driving, steering and drifting metaphor.  Clearly driving is the most effective, direct and purposeful way to travel – but that assumes that you are driving in the right direction (back to my point about planning and trips to Tesco). The danger of driving in what maybe the wrong direction is that you can quickly end up a long way from where you realised or didn’t realise you want to go.  Steering is clearly helpful and gives you the opportunity of keeping some sense of direction, reducing the chance of making great progress but also reducing the risk of arriving somewhere you didn’t particularly realise you didn’t want to be.  Drifting is risky, who knows where you will end up, but it does make you open to significant influences that you may not have experienced before, sometimes they are currents and winds that blow you in a direction that helps and sometimes less so.  However, you are at least in motion of some sort and have the potential to experience new things or see things differently if we open ourselves up to that opportunity.  I know that I have been drifting for a large part of the last two years – uncertain of where I am headed and without enough impulsion to overcome a number of things I can’t control.  I really struggled with that early on and still do at times, but the reason that the jelly fish on the beach resonated so much was that I think I have now come to accept that having been driving or steering with intent from my late teenage years onwards, it is absolutely fine to drift for a bit.  I’m projecting a bit for the sake of the argument – but when I look at the jellyfish and I think of the mountainous seas they have survived, the risks they have been oblivious too, the energy they have saved, the frustrations they have avoided – there is a degree of bravery in laying yourself out to the elements.  As long as you have the resources to stay afloat you can redirect the effort associated with driving and steering to mending, nurturing, and growing, you will end up somewhere and you will have an experience, that much is assured.  Drifting gives you the time and space to focus on defining a new destination that, when the time is right, you can steer or drive hard towards depending on what is appropriate. 

So in conclusion I guess the reflection that I would offer up is:

  1. Are you driving, steering or drifting right now?
  2. Whichever one – is it serving you well or is there maybe a different choice?


3 responses to “Are you driving, steering or drifting?”

  1. Gary Booth avatar
    Gary Booth

    Must catch for a drink / time is passing us by so quickly.

    Near retirement now!

  2. Sara Pickard avatar
    Sara Pickard

    Love this post Richard. One of those ‘lightbulb’ moments. That drifting doesn’t have to be seen as aimless or lazy but as a well earned rest for the weary, a time to recharge, refocus, regroup. Who knew that jellyfish could be so thought provoking

    1. Indeed 🙂 who knew! Thank you – it certainly helped me put the last wee while into perspective x

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