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Getting Your Career Off the Ground

Getting Your Career Off the Ground  

You need not see what someone is doing to know if it is his/her vocation, you have only to watch their eyes: a cook mixing a sauce, a surgeon making a primary incision, a clerk completing a bill of lading, wear the same rapt expression, forgetting themselves in a function. How beautiful it is, that eye-on-the-object look.  —W. H. Auden

Do you feel stuck in a job that’s going nowhere? Do you often imagine moving in a new career  direction but don’t know how to begin? Sometimes people seeking change will try to start big by making a list of all their passions, yet, the truth is, that exercise is not very effective in getting you beyond that first step. Others create an “at my funeral/my legacy list” but, again, that only works for about 10% of people who try a vision-first approach. The better way is to begin where you are today.

For most of us, it is essential to clarify how we feel about our current state before we can imagine a better future state. If this makes sense to you, here is something to consider.

Jed Niederer, a dear friend, and my personal coach for many years, is the co-author of an amazing book How to Coach Anybody About Anything. This book contains a simple powerful clarifying exercise he calls “The 4 Forces of Flight”.  

The story of the birth of this exercise goes something like this. One day in the early 1990s, Jed was a passenger on a commercial plane. While waiting for take-off, he saw a pamphlet in the pocket of the seat in front of him. Upon examination he concluded that it was obviously left behind by a recent passenger who was an airplane enthusiast. The small booklet contained some basic airplane flight information, with a diagram of the aerodynamic forces that must work in balance to get a plane up off the ground and keep it in the air. There were four forces: Lift, Drag, Thrust, and Weight.

Jed was inspired, and that day on the plane, he invented the following Four Forces of Flight Exam to help people evaluate their feelings about their current life/work situation. It is found in Jed’s book referenced in the footnote. You can also find exercise in my just published Design a Life That Works Workbook – 2021.

4 Forces of Flight – Life/Work Exam

Aeronautical engineers tell us there are four forces required to get anything off the ground and flying. Those four forces are listed below. Lift and Weight are internal forces. Drag and Thrust are external forces. Here are their definitions:

LIFT: Things you find uplifting. Things that give you a boost or a sense of exhilaration, freedom, and fun.

WEIGHT: Things that weigh you down. Heavy burdens. Things you are resigned to. Obligations you wish you didn’t have and would like to toss.

DRAG: Things that threaten to hold you back or impede your progress. Things that create frustration, annoyance, or boredom.

THRUST: External opportunities that propel you forward. People or situations at your home, workplace, or industry trends that make work and life move ahead easier. 

Journal Entry: To get your career and life off the ground and flying higher, start with a blank sheet of paper and make four boxes. In the top two boxes, write the words Lift  and Drag. In the bottom two boxes, write the words Thrust and Weight as illustrated here:  

Now think about your current career situation and write your thoughts in each of the four boxes. After you complete this exercise, you will see what things you want to have more of in your career (Lift and Thrust) and things you want less of (Drag and Weight). Now do this same exercise for your life. You are moving down the runway with the momentum you need to imagine a big vision and then make a plan for the next step in your career leadership and life.  

Leadership and Life Journal: A new way to look at the important things you already know. Subscribe to Leadership & Life Journal. 


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