Many people associate Christopher Columbus with discovering the New World. But his bigger accomplishment was proving that the world was round and could be circumnavigated by a ship without falling over the edge.  Prior to his voyage, people in the Old World (the European continent) firmly believed their world extended only as far as they could physically see. After that it just dropped off and ceased to exist; the edge of a very large table. Of course we know today that the closer you get to the horizon in front of you there is always a great deal beyond it.

I was working with a client the other day, talking about a big change in her life that she was contemplating. As she shared, “I’m excited about the future, but scared of it at the same time.” When asked what she was afraid of she responded, “The great unknown.”

At some point in our lives we all must face the great unknown. It is that future over which we have no control and no idea what may be waiting ahead of us. It’s like walking down a long pier, not knowing when or where the end is going to come, and what we will encounter along the way.  Whether you walk that pier with confidence or trepidation, you still have to make the walk.

At some point in our lives we all must face the great unknown. #ClearPathAhead #dreamlife Click To Tweet

So what’s a person to do? If, like Christopher Columbus, we want to discover gold and riches in the New World, then we have to make this voyage of change. And maybe there are still a few things we can learn from him, even in today’s world.

  • Have a plan. You can guarantee Columbus had a plan. He had maps of the world (if only the vaguest ideas of how it was laid out) and a belief that if he kept sailing he would eventually encounter land. Regardless of what change you are embarking upon, be it personal, business or something else, determine your plan. This plan is first and foremost your strategy to navigate the change. What actions are needed, who’s going to do what, what support or resources are needed, what’s the landscape like, etc. You want to literally think about and try to decipher the future as much as you can. Use your imagination to think of all the things, people, and insights you will encounter along the way. As part of this plan, imagine the worst case scenario happening, and have an idea ahead of time what you’ll do. Also have multiple contingency plans (B, C and, if needed, D) in the event the future you imagine doesn’t quite work out.
  • Stock provisions for the journey. One of the biggest challenges for Columbus was ensuring he had a healthy crew to sail his ships, so provisioning was vital to success. He focused on the needs of his crew, like food and spirits, the needs of his boat, like extra rigging, and gifts for trade depending on who he encountered along the way. What provisions does your change require? Might you need to learn new skills or knowledge, get your physical body in shape, or just mentally prepare yourself for what’s to come?
  • Garner support ahead of time. While Columbus was the one who took a physical risk crossing the ocean, it was actually King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella who undertook a financial risk in underwriting his voyage. Without getting them on board, the discovery of the New World would have taken much longer to achieve. You have to do the same thing.  Garner support from others to support your change. Sometimes it might be financial support from senior leadership, partners or financial institutions, or maybe it’s just moral and empathetic support, from colleagues, friends and family. Either way, take the time upfront to galvanize your support system.
  • Adapt as you go. Christopher Columbus had no idea what he would encounter. Disease, fire to his ships, hostile natives, and unpredictable weather were all very probable. He chose to continue the journey forward, adapting to whatever he encountered. You also are going to encounter challenges along the way; people who don’t want you to succeed, other life circumstances, and timelines that don’t make sense. Instead of giving up and turning your ship around, adapt as you go. Address the resistance head on, and pivot where needed. As a colleague pointed out, “What’s the alternative? They’re always there, just hunt them out.”

Acknowledge that you are embarking upon the great unknown of change. Say a prayer, take the risk, and be undaunted in your quest for a dream life. Who knows what you will encounter along the way? Like Columbus you may come back laden with jewels and spices. Or will you fall off the edge of the world, like many of his crew believed? In the final analysis, trite but true, the failure is not in failing, but in not taking the risk at all.

Make a plan, stock your provisions, garner your support, and adapt along the way; embark upon that lonely but exhilarating walk of change down that never ending pier of life. Your dream life is waiting.

ACTION: What change are you preparing to embark upon? Whatever it is, ensure your best chances for success by putting your plan together, stock your provisions, and garner that support to make it a reality.

Kathy Hart’s driving passion is human change and transformation. Her goal is to provide professional women in midlife (ages 40 – 65) with the support and resources needed to re-imagine and lead even more abundant, joy-filled and purpose-driven lives. If you are a woman wanting to reclaim your voice, realize a long-held dream, or just live your life to the fullest, take concrete action by contacting Kathy at The choice is yours!

Services that Kathy offers:

  • 1:1 coaching to support the next journey into your midlife transition
  • Trusted advisor for leaders navigating work changes and requiring an expert guide
  • Speaking and workshops on human change and transformation
  • Small group work and team development to boost the group’s performance