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Boats and Docks: Prioritizing What Is With What Could Be Without Losing Them Both

Have you ever gotten tired of the same-old stuff and started looking for something new in your life? A refresh, if you will. We’ve all been there because there’s a season for everything. There’s nothing “bad” about it.

Have you ever gotten tired of the same-old stuff and started looking for something new in your life? A refresh, if you will.

Maybe it’s your job, your car, your hobbies, your hair, your clothes, the music you listen to, the way your organization operates, the work you do within your organization, or practically any other area of life.

We’ve all been there because there’s a season for everything. There’s nothing “bad” about it.

The trick is, how do you balance the two? How do you balance the old with the new? How do you balance the exciting new ideas with the boring old security?

This is the question of competing priorities, and I call it the tension between boats and docks.

“Docks” are the things that are secure and necessary. They’re the things that have gotten us to where we are. A dock is the one thing that if it were removed from your life something else would have to immediately replace it in order for you to maintain your current standing.

Examples of docks:

  • The full time job you hate but pays the bills
  • The sturdy used car you drive that you have to keep driving while you look and save for a new car
  • The operational standards that drive what you do and keep you where you’re currently at as an organization

Here’s the thing: Docks absolutely must be priority number one no matter how boring they may feel.

Boats are the cool, fresh new thing. I believe you should always be planning and investing into something in the future, whether it’s your next look, job, product, or marketing strategy. Almost everyone should have some form of vision for the future.

Examples of boats:

  • A new job or business idea
  • A new house
  • New marketing tactics or operational strategies to make things better in some way

We should all be doing research and development in every area of our lives – and this does apply to every area of your life.

Jobs, relationships, clothes, music, houses, business, marketing, servanthood – every area of your life should be moving into the future with intentionality and a plan for how each area will improve going forward. That’s growth, because none of us want to stay stagnant.

The purpose of the “boat” is to build something for the future and to keep you engaged and creative in every area.

It can feel overwhelming at times to balance the two, but it’s entirely possible.

If “docks” are our first priorities and “boats” are our second priorities, then problems arise when we put third, fourth, and fifth priorities above the first and second.

We do this for a number of reasons. We may be trying to please or impress other people, we may be averse to conflict and not be willing to tell people no, or we may simply not have clear priorities in our minds to know what our “docks” and “boats” are.

Too many people, myself included, hustle their faces off on four or five different things and never actually accomplish any of them. They spread themselves too thin, and pretty soon their lives are just chaos and disappointment as a result of jumping from one project to the next on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

Don’t get me wrong though, two priorities can still get hairy. After all, priorities are meant to be put in order. When they’re not in the right order, things go haywire.

When you put your “boats” – future building – ahead of your “docks” – the here-and-now, your life becomes a ticking time bomb. Docks only tolerate neglect for so long before they blow up in your face.

Let’s be honest. Docks suck sometimes (most of the time). Some people like the safety of consistency, but most driven people are not exactly in love with the way things have always been done.

But docks are the things that allow boats to land, so never underestimate the value of the boring and steady.

The goal, of course, is to make the transition from dock to boat. It’s not that you’re never content; it’s just that you’re always moving forward and making progress. That process takes time, and it’s typically not one to be rushed.

So when it comes to prioritizing, fill your calendar with two things in mind: docks first, boats second, and everything else in the parking lot. Whatever you do, do not let them swap places.

Remember, you can only build a boat while standing on a dock, and you certainly can’t build it goofing off in the parking lot.

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