4 Questions to Ask When You’ve Lost Your Way

A number of years ago, I flew into Los Angeles, rented a car, and plugged my destination’s street address into my GPS. But soon thereafter, I found that I was in a very rough area in downtown LA. I was lost. I asked myself, “Where am I, and how did I get here?” I then realized that I put in the correct address but the wrong city. I input Los Angeles when it should have been Santa Monica. What should have been an easy 30-minute drive turned into a scary, two-hour experience. You’ve probably lost your way at some point, too.

When you’ve lost your way in life, it’s just as scary as losing your way in an unfamiliar city. Maybe it’s a job loss, a health scare, or a divorce. During these times, it’s difficult to find your way. But it’s not impossible. A good place to start is by asking yourself the right questions. Here are 4 questions to ask when you’ve lost your way.

1. Where am I?

Years ago, a back injury caused me intense pain—pain so bad I felt lost, as if I were in an emotional fog. I had to do what we all need to do when lost: evaluate. I had to evaluate where I was in order to know where to go from there. To determine where we are, we have to ask ourselves: Are you where you should be, or are you supposed to be somewhere else? Do you have peace where you are, or are you discontent? Are you far from where you need to be, or are you closer than you think? It’s natural just to dwell on how lost we are, but until we assess where we are, we’ll simply stay lost.

Find your way: Make a list of what you like about where you are and a list of what you don’t like. Then discern which items on your list should stay the same and which should change.

2. How did I get here?

In life, we may lose our way by aiming for the wrong things or by not aiming for anything at all. Maybe you were never on course, or maybe it’s been a long time since you were. By retracing your steps, you get your bearings. You start to see the paths you can take to move away from where you are. It’s easy to feel stuck in one spot while you’re lost, but if you can figure out how you got here, you can also figure out how to get somewhere else.

Find your way: List the things that may have knocked you off course. Seeing them will help you know exactly how far—or not—you are from your destination.

3. Where do I need to be?

As a former pilot and a frequent flyer, I have seen the difference over and over between looking at the world from the ground and looking at it from as high as 30,000 feet. When we’re lost, it’s tempting to focus on the details right in front of us, but they distract us from the big picture. If we want to identify where we need to be, we need to increase altitude. When you do, it gets easier to see your destination, even if it’s way off in the distance. This means asking what you want your marriage to look like instead of lamenting what it actually looks like or asking what needs to change at work instead of complaining while your work life stays the same. You can’t move toward something until you see it.

Find your way: Think about the part of your life in which you feel lost. Write down what you’d like that part of your life to look like in five years.

4. How do I course-correct?

Once you’ve done the work of answering the earlier questions, you can work toward making a course correction. One way to correct course is to create SMART goals, goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. This ensures that you know exactly where you’re aiming, that you can measure whether you’ve hit the target, that the target actually can be reached, that it makes sense to aim for that target, and that there’s a deadline for hitting it—which, yes, will put a little pressure on you. But pressure motivates. And if you’re lost, that might be exactly what you need.

Find your way: Write down one SMART goal and keep it somewhere you’ll see it every day.

Sound off: When’s the last time you lost your way? How did you get back on track?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Have you ever felt lost before? How did it feel?”