A ship at sea relies upon 3 things: propulsion, steering and navigation. Without any one of these it will never reach its destination, cannot avoid immediate obstacles or can only go where the currents dictate, and eventually run aground.

These three components are also vital to any individual’s career. 

  1. Propulsion, or power.  Even the very cleverest of us, with great ideas, skills and strategy need an engine room to drive it forward.  This energy can only be generated from within.  Without power and drive, steering and navigation are rendered useless, and your career could easily end up on the rocks.
  2. Steering.  Not only must a ship’s Captain set a course, he must always be able to manoeuvre around obstacles which can appear at any time.  If he can only see as far as the horizon, he must factor in the size and relative agility of his vessel to change direction.  How can you deal with sudden change, such as redundancy, being passed over for promotion or your company being sold?
  3. Navigation. Some ships simply travel around in circles.  These are pleasure cruisers.  Navigation means planning the route further than your eye can see.  If you want to arrive safely at a far off destination, navigation is crucial. These days it’s difficult to plan a whole career, but having long term goals definitely helps.  People don’t just happen to become a CEO or High Court Judge, and many more people find exactly what they’re looking for on the route to a far off destination.

There are of course many other analogies which can (and are) be applied to working careers.  Ask yourself though, if your career has these three elements.  Do you want to be in charge and at the helm, or to simply go where the tide takes you?

PS. The same analogy can be applied to any business.

PPS. I successfully used this analogy my last job interview in 1990. The 2 interviewers were ex-navy men.