Crew Coach: Mental map clears brain fog, sets course for success

Jul 17, 2017 by Rob Gannon

Frequently when I work with people on transition and change, the way forward isn’t very clear. They just can’t see the way because they don’t know where they really want to go. I recently mentored two young guys who really showed me what it looks like to work things out with a map and a plan, and what it looks like to work things out with neither.

The first young man I’ll call Brian. Brian is 19 with a very bright and curious mind. He knows exactly what he wants to do with his life for the next 8-10 years. This always impresses me with someone that age. I remember clearly that I when I was that age, I didn’t know what the heck I was doing or where I was going. Brian’s focus on a clear, well thought-out direction was setting him up for a solid future. He has the map and the plan. He’s going into the Coast Guard. He has committed to the number of years required and knows the areas for which he wants to be trained so that he can take valuable skills with him after he completes his duties.

I could see and hear the excitement and enthusiasm as Brian described his path to me. He mentioned that if he enjoys it, he might consider making it a career. That would mean after 20 years he could retire from service with pay and benefits at the ripe old age of 39. He also was open-minded and thoughtful enough to say that if he found the life wasn’t for him, he would just do the minimum years required and move on. Music to my ears — start the voyage and adjust the sails as you go. Sometimes the hardest part of the journey is casting off the lines of comfort and security to head out on that vast and open sea. I can tell this will not be an issue for Brian.

This leads to the second young fellow I spoke with; let’s call him Tom. We’re going to the other end of the spectrum with Tom. Tom is 18, has dropped out of high school and is struggling to make his way in the working world. To complicate things further, he recently found out his girlfriend is pregnant. Whereas with Brian I simply encouraged and supported his decisions, Tom needed some guidance. Even more, he needed someone to listen and understand where he is, and not judge him on his decisions. After listening to his story, it was clear to me there was no map. He was in the fog, with very little in the way of navigational tools and skills. This was a young life that could sail in the wrong direction and find itself grounded on a rocky shore. We discussed some possibilities for career paths. I explained the importance of a map. What’s the destination and how do we get there?

Tom’s more into cars than the nautical scene, so I spared him all my sailing analogies and took a different approach. I told him he could leave on a road trip without a destination or a roadmap and he would end up somewhere, but there would probably be lots of wrong turns and uncertainty. Or he could decide on a destination before departing, follow the right map and end up exactly where he wanted to go. A wrong turn might still be possible, but he would have the map to recover his way. Tom had what he considered valid excuses for why he couldn’t get to some desired destinations. I pointed out that if he were determined to drive to San Diego, if that were the goal, he probably wouldn’t stop in St. Louis and say, “This is far enough.” No, it would be, “On to San Diego! That’s where I’m going!” I believe Tom gets it now. He knows he has to pick a destination and draw out his map.

It can be easy for anyone of any age to be unsure what course to steer. But with some thoughtful introspection and a clear intention reached, we can all map out the way to get there. It’s not magic. It’s not just for a fortunate few; it’s available to all of us. We’re all in the same boat.

Enjoy the voyage.


Capt. Rob Gannon is a 30-year licensed captain and certified life and wellness coach ( Comments are welcome at