On course?


When it comes to your future, do you feel that you are on the right course, or are you “all over the map”?

When I was working on my pilot’s license last year, I learned the difference between course and heading. Yes, they have similar definitions, but they are the difference between getting to your destination and simply going in a straight line. 

A course is simply defined as the direction, measured in degrees from magnetic north, from point A to point B. For instance, when I would plot a course from the Airport in Wichita to one in the St. Louis area, my course would be 080. For reference, 090 is due east.

The problem is, if I were to steer my plane 080 and fly for 3 hours, I might never see the St. Louis area at all, much less my destination airport (usually Festus). Why, you ask? Just one word: Wind.

You see, the problem is that while I’m flying, I’m not steering a course. I’m steering a heading. If my heading is 080, and there is any wind out of the north, my true course could be 085, 090, or worse. Suddenly, I’m over Memphis, not St. Louis. Ug. You see, your heading has to be equal to your course plus or minus any wind correction angle.  

So what does that mean to you, the non-pilot? Let’s say you set a course to get in better shape, more specifically defined as losing 2 inches off of your waist and increasing your bench press by 30 pounds. Then, an unexpected wind comes from the North. That is, you injure your shoulder blogging too much. Now bench pressing more that 10 pounds causes you pain. What do you do? Do you ignore this wind (i.e. the pain) and keep working, or do you adjust your heading to get back on course?

As a pilot, I would have to make that change to make sure to get to that destination.  It takes a little bit of math to compute the new heading, and you have to compare your progress with established landmarks (enroute towns and radio sites, called VORs). For the shoulder injury (caused, in my case, by a skiing blunder in 2006) I had to adjust my gym plan to stop upper body lifting and concentrate more on elliptical and stationary bike work. It was frustrating and the progress was slower, but I was able to keep moving toward my goal by watching my milestones, albeit not in the way I would have prefered.

Do you find yourself setting a big goal and starting off in the right direction, only to find you missed the final target? If so, you’re not alone. Next time, try these steps:

1. Decide what your goal is and what path you’ll take to get there.
– This could be a college degree, a specific fitness goal, or any other goal.

2. Look at your “map” and decide what “towns” are on your route. These are your milestones.
– An associates degree is on the way to a bachelors, dropping 2 inches off of your waist is on the way to a 6-inch loss, making $500 for a speech is a “town” on your way to being a paid professional speaker 

3. As you move forward, look out of the window and see if the next town is in sight. If it’s not where you expected, adjust your heading to compensate.
– If you’ve worked out for 6 months and have the same measurements, maybe you need to cut back on sugar and soda-pop. Don’t be afraid to ask an expert! Pilots get check rides sometimes to make sure they are proficient. You can to.

4. Watch your fuel! Sometimes a straight headwind can make it take longer to get where you’re going than you can sustain in one jump. Find one of your enroute airports and make a pit stop.
– Sometimes it can take longer than you expect to finish a bachelors degree. if you see the associates outside the window, finish that one and make a refuel stop.

5. Once you arrive at your destination, close your flight plan! (the FAA gets mad at you if you skip this step – don’t ask)
– Hang that degree on the wall or have a ceremonial “burning of the pants”

don’t confuse your desired course with your current heading. Take the time to check your landmarks, refuel when you need to, and make sure you are still moving toward your true destination. If you think like a pilot and stay on course, you’ll not only see your goals and dreams materialize, but you’ll be fueled up and ready for the next flight!


  1. Hey Rob,

    Good food for thought. I liked your last statement:

    “Don’t confuse your desired course with your current heading. Take the time to check your landmarks, refuel when you need to, and make sure you are still moving toward your true destination.”

    In life (and probably in flying), we may feel we are headed North, but actually going North East. Objective anaylis of the facts can be quite helpful.

    If you had posted this 36 hrs earlier, I would have used some of your points yesterday when I spoke to 200 Teens on “What to do in Life”! Always next time 🙂

    Keep up the good writing!

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