The Art of Starting Something New Without Ruining What You Have

Have you ever gotten tired of the same-old stuff and decided to go down the path of starting something new in life? 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, or …


Have you ever gotten tired of the same-old stuff and decided to go down the path of starting something new in life?

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, or practically any other area of life. Or maybe it’s your spiritual life.

We’ve all been there. There’s nothing inherently “bad” about wanting change.

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 of change with the boring old security of what’s currently at least somewhat working?

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

Boats and Docks: The Key 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. It’s not glamorous, and you may have even come to hate it, but 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 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.

Don’t get this confused. I am NOT telling you that you should stay in a situation that is truly unhealthy mentally, physically, emotionally, or spiritually. 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. 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, and we all should have them. 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 alignment with God’s vision for the future. We should all be doing research and development in every area of our lives – and this does apply to every area of your life. Every area of your life should be moving into the future with intentionality and an at least rough-draft plan for how each area will improve going forward, because being stagnant and complacent is no life at all.

The purpose of the “boat” is to build something better for the future and to keep you engaged and creatively driving forward for the benefit of those around you and generations to come.

It can feel overwhelming at times to balance boats and docks, but it’s entirely possible. Issues arise, however, when we start getting distracted and placing other priorities above our boats and docks. If “docks” are our first priorities and “boats” are our second priorities, then anytime we put something else as third, fourth, and fifth priorities above the first and second, we’re going to experience problems.

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. We might just be looking for an escape from the mundane work of our “dock” and the difficult work of our “boat”. 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, even when you’re only managing the top two priorities, things can 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 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.

Let’s be honest. Docks can suck sometimes. We get tired of the same old same old. We want near instant change, and when we don’t see it, we can easily get discouraged. We can easily get tired of doing something in which we’re not completely satisfied. 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 starting something new, prioritizing is essential. When you’re 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.

Posted by Mike P. Taylor

Mike Taylor is a proud husband, father of 4, and author from Nashville, TN who communicates God's love in a way that makes sense.