Sir William Edward Parry (1790 – 1855) was an English naval officer and record-setting explorer of the Arctic. He made one of the initial attempts to conquer the perilous trip to the North Pole and, in so doing, travelled further north than any other previous explorer – a record that stood for almost fifty years. On one of his trips to the Arctic, Parry and his men were straining every sinew to reach the pole safely and before weather conditions made it impossible to do the trip. At one point on the journey, Parry stopped to calculate his position by the stars and then continued pushing north. Hours later, they stopped, exhausted from their efforts. Again Admiral Parry calculated his position and discovered something unbelievable: they were actually further south than when they made their previous calculation!

Parry was an expert in astronomical science and observations (he wrote a book on the subject), so a mistake on his part was not likely. He finally managed to fathom what was happening – he and his team had been on a gigantic ice-floe that was moving south faster than they were moving north. They were taking one step forward, but moving two steps backward. The ice floe was so large and moving so gradually that Parry’s loss of position was imperceptible until he recalculated. While he thought he was gaining ground, he was in fact losing ground.

We live and do business in a world that is changing – sometimes this change is glaringly obvious and fast (as perhaps in technology advances over the past three decades); at other times, the change is imperceptible, but happens nonetheless (as perhaps in cultural or attitude shifts in society). The net result of these changes, obvious or imperceptible, is pressure as a result of rising expectations, feelings of incompetency and a fear of failure. Living life in “survival mode”, struggling to meet everyone’s expectations, attempting to keep your head above water in an ever turbulent environment may lead to feelings of despair – this loss of hope may result in us crying out in exasperation: “I feel that I am taking one step forward, but two steps backward – I am just not gaining ground!”

Perhaps a less pressured approach to life (one that takes you a few steps forward) may follow these seven guidelines:

  1. Assess what’s really important – setting goals in alignment with one’s personal values and work role is critical if one is going to be and feel fulfilled. A life well lived has a spiritual centre, a relational foundation and an expression of giftedness. “Living your dream” should be rooted in the aforementioned, using your strengths to realise your own growth and selflessly to encourage the development of others.
  2. Say “no” to some stuff – it is impossible to do everything that one may want to do (at least, not at the same time), so one may need to say “no” to some things in order to say “yes” to the more important (I realised I had to say “no” to the game of golf in order to say “yes” to my giftedness – consulting, facilitating and motivating growth in others all over the world).
  3. Prioritise the remainder – a lot has been written about prioritisation in the past, but keep it simple: make sure that the most important goals are clearly defined and prioritised. Prioritisation helps you say “yes” and “no” appropriately.
  4. Focus on the most important – where your focus lies, that’s where your energy will go, so make sure that your focus is well-placed. As you focus on the most important, your creativity and ability to be innovative and to establish beneficial networks (relationships) that could assist you in achieving your goals are enhanced. Suddenly you start recognising new opportunities and start capitalising on links that get made in your brain – you have a heightened awareness of what is possible and you get to working on making these a reality.
  5. Don’t get side-tracked by the seemingly urgent – life offers many distractions and they all seem to be urgent (we need to respond now!) e.g.: the LED indicators on a mobile handset, the “ping” of an incoming e-mail, the knock at the door, the advert for the latest device, etc. Although some of these “distractions” may be important, most are probably irrelevant or at best, nice to haves. Sift through these quickly and get back to focusing on the important.
  6. Evaluate – keep track of where you are in accomplishing your goals. Is your current behaviour going to lead to success or do you need to make some alterations? Do you need to look for more or alternative resources? Are there others that you need to pull in on the project? Are there new skills that you have to learn? Are you making the needed progress?
  7. Refocus – become relentless at focusing for stints of time on your goals – when you achieve a milestone, relax and have some fun. Then, refocus again. The interim “rewards” become motivational and give energy to refocus on the next steps.

Life is seemingly more pressured now than ever before – expectations are enormous and people are losing hope, perhaps feeling that they are taking one step forward and two steps backward. The “one step forward, two steps backward” routine can be arrested – this does require refocusing on the truly important and applying one’s energy appropriately.

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