Flying on Auto-Pilot

The more things become automatic, the more we need to be in control.

air transport, travel, technology and aviation concept - dashboard in airplane cockpit and view of cloudy sky behind windshield

This past week, I had the pleasure of attending two interesting events. The first was on Monday, May 11 in New York – the Ms. Foundation’s 2015 Gloria Awards. The Gloria Awards are dedicated to recognizing pioneers in the fight for legal, social and economic rights for women. Named after Ms. founder and activist Gloria Steinem, the event was a revelation, and a reminder that great progress has been made and great progress is yet to come. The second event was on May 14 in New Jersey – the Spring Social for the NJ Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators. At this event, guest speaker Deidre Breakenridge of Pure Performance Communications talked about the pervasive power of social media, power that extends beyond pure attention getting to recognizing that this is where business increasingly happens.

I also recently stumbled upon an interesting article in the LA Times about Google’s foray into driverless cars. Seems that there have been four crashes involving these vehicles, crashes which are the result of unpredictable human behavior.

What ties these items together is they all reflect the tangible results of decades of innovation, advocacy for social justice and the passion of dreamers. We are living in a Golden Age, an age where we are ever more distant from the limits of the past, where we can rest on our advances unburdened.

Yet the more things become automatic, the more we need to be in control. It’s easy to assume that lessening a burden, or achieving a new level, means you have eliminated the need to stay involved. You haven’t. Whether one is talking about a driverless car, social and economic justice or a new way to do business, flying too long on auto-pilot is not a good idea.

The same holds true for a career.

I’ll use myself as an example. Whenever I start to feel too comfortable in my work, confident I’ve achieved a new level of success that affords me the option of cruising for a while, I find myself growing soft. Which, I confess, is nice for a while. I’ve worked hard and can profit from a slight pause. Honestly, the inclination to rest is quite intoxicating. And the bigger the achievement, the longer the pause. Yet the very act of not pushing on becomes like an ocean’s tide; once at a new shoreline, the tide’s momentum eventually pulls me backward.

Case in point, I’ve pretty much avoided fully jumping into social media. I tell myself it’s not a new skill I can master or that it will distract me from my business development sweet spot. Up to this point, my lack of engagement hasn’t been a hindrance. Now it’s beginning to hold me back. Granted, I counsel clients on creating their own professional persona – their leadership brand – that includes using multiple tools like social media. Yet I relegate applying this advice in my own work to the back burner. I’m running on auto-pilot and like a passenger in a driverless car, I stopped paying attention to the other drivers on the road.

Now, it’s humbling to realize you’ve paused too long. And it’s a pain in the ass to hit the restart button. Who wants to suit up again when cruising along is easy? Everyone, I’m sure, has felt this at some point. I know I have. I’m fortunate, though, that I can figure out when it’s time to once again create forward movement. It comes to me as an uncomfortable feeling, telling me that perhaps I should not be so comfortable anymore. That I’m no longer resting in place but rather falling behind. So it is with any period where you rest a little too long in one place. You think you’re merely catching your breath until your brief pause dances dangerously close to a way of life.

At that moment, you know it’s time to reach over and switch off the auto-pilot. Time to drive forward once again.



One Comment

  1. You actually said this superbly!

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