The power of purposive drift

I remember one of the first managers that I ever worked for inadvertently introducing me to the concept of purposive drift when as a young and hopeful professional, I was trying to master developing myself around who I was at work and not just what I could do. Frustrated with my lack of progress with a project, he plotted where I wanted to get to and where I was starting from on a piece of paper, and in-between those two points, drew a sailing boat zig zagging from left to right – possibly on it’s way to my intended destination, and possibly not.

let it go

I know full well that my personality preferences and fear of failure often mean that I am determined to safely reverse engineer any plan or process to ensure I get there successfully, triumphantly delivering against my goal. Coupled with the brain’s natural and ancient bias for negativity to keep us from danger, this has been a dangerous combination for me meaning I’m keen to always stay in control and my ego needs to see every box being ticked to feel satisfied and worthy.

dealing with change

It was some years later, that I was again formally introduced to the concept of purposive drift, at a time when my life was going through considerable change and upheaval – a year before everyone else also ended up in the same metaphorical boat with the onset of the Covid crisis.

ride those waves

I listened closely as during this period I often faced repeated signs telling me to significantly reconsider my whole approach to life and here again was another one. It struck me that purposive drift is an intellectual term for making it up as you go along. Not only that but also enjoying and appreciating that dynamic of the change process rather than it scaring the living daylights out of you.


A focus on planning and controlling is something many of us are taught as critical skills for life and work, particularly in today’s more structured organisations. However when these behaviours become out of balance and are applied excessively, they can make us lose touch with ourselves and others. At worst, it can turn us into becoming unhealthily fixated on achieving a possible future reality as opposed to living in the present moment and noticing it’s layers of hidden beauty.

embrace it

By reconnecting with who we are, accepting that we are enough and trusting in ourselves both now and in the future, we can find that place of authenticity and self belief to follow our hearts in balance with our heads. Enjoying the journey as we drift along, letting go of the need for a fixed and certain outcome is the essence of embracing purposive drift. And 2020 was indeed the ultimate development opportunity as we were forced to consistently explore this concept.

brave new world

As we move into 2021, navigating a third lockdown and ultimately hoping to prepare for the return of both greater freedom and control in our own lives, many of us are reflecting on what we might keep and what we might let go of following our Covid experiences. For me, I am committed to continuing on my journey of mastering purposive drift – and trying my best to enjoy the challenge along the way.

as featured on thrive global