Scanning the horizon

Navigating life’s obstacles

pete !
5 min readJul 30, 2014

It was a busy Manhattan day. Mid-week, mid-day, with a muggy mid-80’s heat. One of those days where the churn of the city is palpable. Bounding up from the subway station I zag to the left and set off on a quick walk to the new client pitch. The sunlight is beautifully piercing as I gaze ahead and notice a window washer high up on a building down the block. I feel a buzz in my pocket…Crap, the meeting just started. Slide after slide is running through my head as I increase my stride weaving through the crowded sidewalk. Wait, where is my dongle? I swing around my bag and search for the white plastic piece. The traffic light changes suddenly and my stride comes to a halt as a bike messenger whizzes by my nose. The light changes and I burst across the intersection with hopes of sliding into the meeting before the first mention of agile. My mind danced from the dongle to a lunch date to that unfinished scope. Just one more block to go. I dart back and forth across the sidewalk noticing all of the grime in the cracks. Oh, there’s a shiny little, BAAAAAMMMMMMMMMMM

I hear a big thud, I see the bright sun, I feel the hot grittiness of the NYC sidewalk pressed firmly against my face. I slowly roll over and see that I’m joined on the ground by a delivery man and his cart of boxes.

Eye Level

Grantland founder Bill Simmons and veteran NFL executive Mike Lombardi have coined a unique quarterback metric; ‘Eye Level’. Bill describes it as such…

“…ideally, quarterbacks should be looking past the line of scrimmage, trying to find open receivers and trusting that everything happening directly in front of them will work in their favor. They ignore: missed blocks, 300-pounders rolling around near their feet, and the possibility of being pancaked. They refuse to be swayed from keeping their eyes locked downfield and trusting the process as a whole.”

Sounds great right? This is not exactly how the game always works though…

“…when they’re banged up, hiding an injury, worrying about their blocking, fearing the next pancake sack and/or battling self-doubt? Their eye level drops down to the line of scrimmage (everything directly in front of them), they start quick-throwing passes, they start making decisions they never normally make, their body language goes to hell.”

Is this really any different from other areas of life? When everything is going our way, it’s quite easy to keep our heads up, navigate obstacles, and feel like we are in control. Then the hits come. A few things don’t go our way. Our confidence drops. We begin questioning our abilities. We suddenly are only paying attentnion to the threats right in front of us and we forget about what is on the horizon.

When the hits come

There will always be environmental obsticles coming for you in all directions. How can we keep our heads up and find the correct path?

Know your controls

A few weekends ago I took a motorcycle license training course. The first thing you do when you get on a motorcycle is locate all of the controls. You then cycle using each of these controls with the bike off and your eyes shut. The intention is to build muscle memory around these controls so that you never have to drop your eye level when you need to use them. So what are your controls in life? As a consultant, I alway’s make sure to integrate project extension options into my contracts. If a project begins to slow down or lose focus, I can reorganize work efforts using these options to keep the engagement running in a positive direciton. When things get busy, maybe you need additional time to organize yourself in the morning or perhaps you need to block out time for personal sketching. Every day is filled with small decisions tied to meetings, personal commitments, and even our own emotional state. All of these decisions can be critical controls in your life when things go awry. Quarterbacks have audibles, cities have disaster plans, and pilots have survival guides. What are your controls?

Look Left, Push Left, Turn Left

On day two of the motorcycle course, our instructor kept reminding us to ‘look left, push left, turn left’. This is the basic process for steering a motorcycle. The key element here is the order. You must start all change with the turn of your head. A motorcycle is simply a machine to get you to obstacles faster. Cars, potholes, pedestrians, and weather are all external factors that constantly change around you. We often forget how vital our focus is in determining where we end up. If you are scanning the horizon, you will be able look to where you want to go, change your path, and continue to safety. If your eye level is on the ground, you will quickly find yourself there as well.

A hit is just a hit

In a football game, many things must go right for one team and wrong for the other team for a sack to occur. It can be easy for a quarterback to feel the pain of a hit and immediately tie it back to their own ‘bad play’. Losing their confidence is the quickest route to further hits. We all dance through a life of constant threats and obstacles. The vast majority of life obstacles we have no direct control over. In fact, our own best path often crosses the paths of many other people and organizations. The best mindset after a hit is to simply dust yourself off and keep your eye level on the horizon.

I remember laying on the hot asphalt on that hot day in Manhattan. A small crowd was peering over me waiting to see me move. Would I yell and scream? Would I take off running? Would I kick a few Amazon orders? I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and stood up. Without saying a word, I helped the delivery man pick up all of his boxes. After the last box, I gave him a little bow as I shook his hand. This hit was not going to get the best of me. I controlled my emotional state, turned my eyes uptown, and began slowly walking to my meeting. My mind returned to a state of calmness as I saw a beautiful ray of sun peak around the corner of the building far down the horizon. Today is going to end out just fine.

Peter Knocke is a User Experience Strategist living in NYC. He’s a Co-founder of GothamSmith LTD & Specials on C.



pete !

A big mess of hair, coffee, and whiskey. User Experience Strategist. Co-founder of GothamSmith LTD & Specials on C.