The Art of Starting Something New Without Losing Everything and Failing Miserably

Simple Takeaway:

When you’re starting something new, remember: You must have a foundation in place before you can build anything of value. Whatever you have at your disposal to produce resources consistently and reliably is the foundation you must solidify before building anything else. Fill your calendar with the reliable but boring, then add the new and exciting in the margins around it. If you spend more energy on the new and exciting than the steady and boring, you’ll find yourself without a foundation to stand on.

Have you ever gotten tired of the way things are and decided to start something new?

Maybe it’s your job, your car, your hobbies, your hair, your clothes, the music you listen to, the way the organization you work for operates, the work you do within your organization, etc.

There’s nothing inherently “bad” about wanting change. The trick is, how do you balance the old with the new?

How do you balance the exciting new ideas with the security of what’s currently working?

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

Boats and Docks: The Keys to Starting Something New


“Docks” are the things that are secure and necessary. They’re the things that have gotten us to where we are.

Docks are not glamorous.

You may have even come to hate them.

But docks are the things that if they 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 that pays the bills
  • The effective but “probably-not-ideal-long-term” parenting tactics you use to maintain order in your home
  • The “boring” vacation spot you take your family every year while you save to pay for your dream vacation
  • The sturdy used car you drive that you have to keep driving while you look and save for a new car
  • The mediocre standards at work that drive you nuts but that also maintain a moderate level of order and keep you afloat as an organization
  • The prayers that feel awkward and uncomfortable while you grow in your walk with God

Docks are stable. They’re not ideal, they’re not exciting, and they’re not the long-term goal. They might even be downright uncomfortable. But they’re stable. They provide a base from which you can build.

You must have a foundation in place before you can build anything of value. Whatever you have at your disposal to produce resources consistently and reliably is the foundation you must solidify before building anything else.

Disclaimer: I am NOT telling you that you should stay in a situation that is truly unhealthy. If you’re in an abusive or otherwise unstable situation, you should absolutely seek the relief you need.

But most of us aren’t in that kind of danger. Most of us are in situations that are stable but not ideal. Those are docks.

Here’s the thing:

As terrible as they can feel sometimes, docks must be your priority number one no matter how boring they may feel.

You shouldn’t throw out family vacations altogether just because you can’t go on the vacation of your dreams.

You shouldn’t quit your job just because they’re not doing things how you think they should be done.

You shouldn’t get discouraged as a parent just because you don’t have it all figured out.

Start where you’re at.

When you’re starting something new, you have to start from somewhere, and it’s only from that place that you can start to build your “boats”.


Boats are the changes you wish to see in your life. Boats are plans and investments into something in the future.

Examples of boats:

  • a growing family
  • a healthier diet
  • a deeper level of intimacy with God
  • a new date night idea
  • a different approach to parenting to deepen your relationship with your kids
  • an advancement in your career
  • new ways to improve the culture at your job
  • any other “next level” you can take in your life

We should all have “boats” based on our vision for the future.

Every area of your life should be moving into the future with intentionality, because stagnation leads quickly to deterioration.

The purpose of the “boat” is to build something better for the future and to keep you moving forward for the benefit of those around you.

Balancing Boats and Docks

Issues arise when we start getting distracted and misalign our priorities.

Priorities are meant to be in order. When they’re not in the right order, things go haywire.

When you put your boats ahead of your docks, your life becomes a ticking time bomb. Docks only tolerate neglect for so long before they begin to crumble beneath your feet.

Docks are boring. Movement is exciting, and when we don’t see it, we can easily get discouraged.

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.

When it comes to starting something new, prioritizing is essential.

When you’re prioritizing, first fill your calendar with the steady but boring, then add the exciting and new in the margins around it. 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.