When You Veer Off Course

I was recently at the home of my mentor Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, along with a group of beloved physicians committed to finding meaning in medicine, and we were talking about living with your mistakes.

As part of the discussion, Rachel told a story about the Concorde, the now retired turbojet-powered supersonic passenger airline that used to jet across the Atlantic at lightning speed.

The Perfectly Imperfect Concorde

Apparently, the jet goes too fast for human pilots to keep up with it. One wrong move and the Concorde is way off track. So back when it was still flying, the Concorde was flown by two computers that talk to each other. One autopilot would say something like “Hey! We’re off track! Get back on course!” And the other autopilot would say, “Recalculating. Getting back on track.”

Apparently, you could hear them talking to each other. They prattled on during the entire flight, yada yada yada – “Off track!” “Correcting course!”

One guy on a tour of the Concorde asked why they were constantly talking to each other. Wasn’t the Concorde ever on course?

The tour guide said “Yes, about 1 percent of the time. The other 99 percent of the time, the jet veers off course, requiring constant autocorrection.”

When asked what time the plane would arrive in New York by the concerned man, the tour guide said, “At 10 pm, plus or minus three minutes.”

You Can Be Off Course & Still Reach Your Destination

In other words, it’s not about constantly sticking to the straight and narrow. You veer left. You stray right. You swerve and sway and bump up and down in the air pockets.

Nobody blames the Concorde for getting off course. There’s no shame game or guilt or Gremlins whispering evil-nothings. The Concorde’s computers aren’t screaming at each other, going “You IDIOT! You’re off course! AGAIN!”

No explanation needed. Forgive the fact that you’ve veered off course.

Make amends.


Move on.

The secret to arriving at your destination is constant auto-correction in the face of the inevitable mistakes we all make. The error is not so much in getting off course. That part is inevitable. We’re human. Nobody is perfect, not even the Concorde. The error comes in not being conscious, aware, present, and humble, in not looking right and left to see where you are, in not checking in with your Inner Pilot Light to see where you might be off course, in not being brave enough to take action, to mindfully auto-correct.

We All Make Mistakes

You broke the law.

You abused your child.

You cheated on your spouse.

You picked the wrong career.

You agreed to the arranged marriage and turned your back on true love.

You injected that heroin.

Your scalpel slipped.

You drove too fast and hit someone.

It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

I was once in family counseling because someone I love had made a few mistakes. When one of us would ask, “Why would you do such a thing?” the therapist would inevitably interrupt and answer on that person’s behalf. His answer – “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Over the years, I’ve found his answer strangely comforting, because isn’t that the truth? Even if we have an inkling that what we’re about to do is unethical, out of integrity, illegal, or otherwise “wrong,” part of us really does think it was a good idea to hit the child, shoot up the drug, betray the spouse, or act like a speed demon in a car. It doesn’t excuse the mistake. We can’t just sweep it under the carpet because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

But it can help us find compassion for ourselves when we veer off course.  Only when we forgive ourselves can we learn to find peace in the face of inevitable mistakes.  If the Concorde doesn’t autocorrect, it gets way the hell off course lickety-split. But as human beings, we’re lucky. We don’t travel at the speed of light, so fortunately for us, when we veer off course, it’s usually slow and ragged. Rarely does a mistake happen in split second timing. More commonly, it happens in bite-sized chunks, leaving us with plenty of time for gentle, loving self-adjustment. Even if the mistake does happen in an instant, there’s time afterwards to make things right, to ask for forgiveness, to get help, to stop the behavior, to right the wrong.

Have you made a mistake?

Too often, when we veer off course, we figure we’ve blown it so badly that we might as well veer further off track. If you’ve already hit the child, you might as well do it again. If you’ve already betrayed your wife, you might as well get it on again with your mistress. If you got high once, you might as well get high all the time.  The more off course we get, the harder it is to face what we’ve done, so the more likely it is that we’ll keep steering off track.

But darling, please don’t do this. Forgive yourself for what you’ve done right this moment. Accept this hug (((((((YOU))))))). Forgive what you’ve done. Now start making it right – not tomorrow, but today.

Don’t wait until you’re 1,000 miles off course. It’s harder to find your way when you do. And if you’ve already lost your way, don’t wait another moment to tune in to your inner guidance system and auto-correct.

We’re all off course in some aspect of our lives, and when we are, we wind up sick, unhappy, and numb.  Do yourself a favor and slow down. Pay attention. Tune in. Check in with the destination. Make sure it’s the one you really want. Be willing to adjust constantly.

Where are you off course? What baby step can you make today to auto-correct?

Trusting your inner compass,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.comPink Medicine Revolutionarymotivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.

Learn more about Lissa Rankin here.


Dale Overall

Interesting, but my cat just arrived in the kitchen and her bowl is empty. Human Servant must arise swiftly to see to her needs or there will be no kneads of contentment later.

Duty fulfilled I may now sit to write my comment...no, a wail indicating something is up.

Here she is sitting at my left foot insisting on attention. Then to the right foot for more attention, pettings, rubbings, talking and touch-she is sixteen and blind to both senses are important.

Purrs, rubs for me from her and then the slow walk to a cushy bed on the floor.

Now, I may be purrmitted to continue with my comment. The peach ginger tea that I poured for myself while filling her bowl is now over brewed.

Yes, compassion for ourselves (with the exception of criminals and sociopaths doing harm to others) when we veer off course is very helpful. Often we are more compassionate to others making the same errors than we are to ourselves. We can learn from our errors and grow in many cases.

At least the tea is not too bad, thankfully I am on my second cup with the same tea bag.

If one is depressed and suicidal one can try and be compassionate to oneself and give yourself another chance or in a less urgent case if one has pulled off a major mistake one can try and right it somehow.

Morgan Forrester
Past Member 5 years ago

The ride to any destination,is half the fun of getting there.....unless,someones life or health is at stake,DON'T PANIC! if you (or someone you know) veers off course.
Hardly a catastrophe in most cases.

Thomas Bergel
Past Member 5 years ago

Of the examples given, only one, "your scalpel slipped" can reasonably be classified a mistake. The other five are plainly choices. While there's no other option but to move on after making a mistake or making poor choices, I don't think it wise to give out free passes or minimize the possible consequences.

Mary B.
Mary B5 years ago

One of my favorite sayings is "The last place you want to be is in a first class seat going where you don't want to go."
Thanks for the wonderful article Lissa. People waste way too much time beating up on themselves over wrong headed and irresponsible things they did, usually long ago, but hey, it gives them an excuse to never make amends to whomever they wronged.

Marianne Barto
Marianne B5 years ago

Another good article by Lissa. thanks

Catherine M.
Catherine M5 years ago

Thank you for this beautiful, thoughtful article. A beautiful reminder that we can forgive ourselves and move on from our mistakes and regrets.

Chad A.
Chad Anderson5 years ago

It is much better to know where you are going and not know how to get there than to just go with the flow but follow the same path you always have.

Heather Marvin
Heather Marvin5 years ago

Really good advice, thank you. We all make mistakes and need forgiveness.

Kathy K.
Kathy K5 years ago

Great article. Thanks.

Glenville J O.
Glenville J Owen5 years ago

Thank you for those words of wisdom Lissa, a powerful lesson gently taught. I've veered way off course a few times to many in my life and the experiences certainly helps keep me tuned in to that perfect inner beacon more, guiding me in the right direction.