When Life Knocks You Off Course – Use THIS To Get Back On Track

You know what they say about “the best laid plans”.  John Lennon said “Life is what happens to you whilst you’re making other plans”.  No matter how energetic, focused and strategic we are, there is always something that comes along to knock us off track.

In aviation, being knocked off track is a given.  You may take off from A and aim for B, but nature and life are designed to make accomplishing that a challenge.  Whether it’s the setting of your direction instruments, a thunderstorm to go round, or just the wind that tries to sidetrack you, the accuracy of your course is something that requires constant checking and correction.  We even have a “rule of thumb” called the 1 in 60 rule to help with this.  This rule states that if a pilot has travelled sixty miles then an error in track of one mile is approximately a 1° error in heading, and proportionately more for larger errors.  In layman’s terms, if you take off from Harare and head for London, unless you constantly check your track and make the adjustments needed, you could end up anywhere from the Atlantic to Brussels.

When I plan a route for a flight, I need to know 3 things:  Where am I?  Where am I going?  And by what criteria will I stay on track?

Our lives and our businesses are much the same.  In order to not only progress, but to arrive at our intended destination successfully, we need to know the same three things.  This is the reason why we strategise at the end of each year for the upcoming year.  We ask “Where are we now”, and “Where do we want to go?”.  Based on the answers to those questions, we set our track and the plan for achieving our desired outcomes.  We make certain allowances for margins of error and for plans to change.  In Zimbabwe, we appreciate that the goal posts for the year may have moved by Wednesday, and we try to remain mentally flexible without blowing our cortisol levels through the roof.

But what happens when the wheels really fall off?  What happens when our plans get blown out the water?  What happens when the totally unexpected and unforeseeable arrives?  In a cockpit, perhaps that’s an engine fire or a hijacking.  What constitutes an engine fire or a hijacking in your life?  Something that demands your full and immediate attention to the detriment of all else.  Something that wasn’t even on the periphery of The Plan that requires you to make things up as you go along.

“Off track” is a spectrum.  You can be a little off track, blown by the prevailing wind with the need for a slight readjustment; or you can be fully off track, uncertain of what correction to make or perhaps even uncertain about where to head next.  So how do we recenter?  How do we get back on track?

I mentioned there were three criteria to planning a route.

  1. Where am I now?
  2. Where do I want to go?
  3. By what criteria will I stay on track?

#3 is what keeps us centered.  It’s what remains in the back of our mind when we’re making small corrections.  And it’s what drives us and keeps us centered when we need to make MASSIVE corrections due to unforeseen circumstances.  Ultimately, it’s what reminds us WHY we’re doing what we’re doing.

In the cockpit, the criteria that governs those decisions is the safety of the aircraft and the souls on board.  This is the base-line “why”; the thing that governs why we choose to do things the way we do during that flight and everything that surrounds it.  When things go according to plan, it remains a base-line on which we build other decisions: your responsibility for your mental, physical and emotional fitness to fly; the way you wear your uniform; the way you address and communicate with your crew; the measure of calmness and professionalism with which you address your day and flight; the way you represent your company.  It determines how you view the world – ever vigilant for things that could disrupt the safe outcome of your flight.

But when the proverbial hits the fan, this criteria is front and center.  Fully focused.  Not only does it not change, but it acts to intensify and crystallise your thinking.  Rather than assessing each response and action by a myriad of possibilities, clarity and focus are found in remembering sharply WHY you’re doing what you’re doing and aiming only at things that directly achieve that outcome.

In life and business, these criteria which govern how we stay on course are called our values.  Our personal values.  Our business values.  Our degree of clarity on these things determine our degree of “wander” along our track.  Many of us aren’t fully certain what our personal or business values are.  We may guess at them or have some idea if pulled into a conversation about them.  Some businesses have their values written on the wall or on their website.  But how many of us are crystal clear about what our values are?  How many of us govern all our decisions by those values?  Agreeing to travel only routes that correspond with those values and discard those that don’t?  How many of us are actively LIVING our values?

If you’re part of a team, do the different participants in that team agree on the values?  Do they all buy into them?  Do they understand what they look like in action?  And are they willing to commit themselves to navigating by those values to the same degree that you are.  These are the certainties a flight crew must operate by in order to effectively achieve their outcomes.  Imagine the consequences if we didn’t know, agree and act on these things in a cockpit.

What are your values?  Have you communicated them?  What do they look like in action?  What are your business’s values?  Have you communicated them?  What do they look like in action?

If you’re off course and uncertain how to get back on; if your team lacks energy, direction and drive; the chances are good that uncertainty on this aspect is the root cause.

If you’d like to “up the energy”, improve team communication, reassess the direction, increase and focus the drive – check out our “Upping the Energy” course for Leaders and their Teams:  https://makingteamswork.co/events/

By Christen Killick

16 April 2018




  1. Daniel Pswarai on April 19, 2018 at 4:21 am

    I found your article absolutely rich in content and relevant to my leadership context. Thank you very much.

    • Christen Killick on April 26, 2018 at 3:19 pm

      Thanks, Daniel. It’s great to get feedback on whether what I’ve shared is useful!

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