The Boatbuilder’s Lesson on Goals

At some point in Vikings, boat builder Floki leaves his hometown of Kattegat. His wife and daughter both have died, and so he surrenders himself to the sea. After weeks adrift, he ends up in Iceland, a desolate but beautiful place.

Having explored the island for a while, Floki finally begins to see his new mission: Tell his people about his discovery, and bring new settlers into this foreign land. He sails back, he manages to convince a few folk to join him, and together, through great peril and hardship, eventually, they reach Iceland.

But what is this? The land is barren. One can hardly farm. The temperatures are even colder than in Kattegat, and there’s almost no game one can hunt. What hellhole has Floki brought them to? Naturally, Floki’s followers are angry, and fights soon break out among them.

The whole idea of settling eventually fails in spectacular fashion, and not too long afterwards, Floki once again finds himself adrift at sea. One day, he will indeed discover a new home, but for now, the boat builder hasn’t built his last vessel just yet…

There’s a beautiful balance in Floki’s story. Sometimes, he knows exactly what he wants, and he runs right towards it. At other times, he is completely lost. Everything feels pointless, and so he does nothing on purpose in particular. And sometimes, Floki knows he is lost but refuses to accept it. At those times, he chases a random goal — mostly to chase something until a better target comes along.

Is Iceland really the best place for the vikings to settle? Probably not. But it’s a new, empty place they can settle. It might be worth a try…

When the settlers struggled to find their destination in their tiny boat, Floki could have tried to divert them to a different destination. He could have turned the boat around. But he didn’t. He kept laying out a beautiful — perhaps a bit too beautiful — vision of Iceland — because he knew that destination, any meaningful destination, really, might make the difference between his followers starving and pulling through.

Last year, I knew exactly what I was doing. I had a Trello board, milestones, and kept cranking away. Then, the plan stopped working, and while I adjusted accordingly — I stopped working on tactics that no longer showed effect — I’ve now been adrift for a few months. I can feel myself getting tired of that drift. I need something, anything, to sink my teeth into. And I’m starting to realize that, probably, any goal will do the trick.

Tune in to your inner compass. Find the right balance. When it’s time to meander, meander. When it’s time to be laser-focused, focus. And when it’s time to grasp for whatever rope will get you out of a slump, reach out and pull yourself up. Ahoy, sailor! May the winds be fair and the seas follow you wherever you go.