[caption id=“attachment_1748” align=“aligncenter” width=“1024”]sailboats at sunset Sunset in the British Virgin Islands[/caption]

“It’s not the blowing of the wind that determines our destination, it’s the set of the sail.”

— Jim Rohn

Did you know that a sailboat can sail against the wind?

Using a technique called tacking, a skilled sailor can zigzag back and forth at a 45° angle, making slow progress against a headwind (that’s where the expression “take a different tack” comes from). Tacking requires skill, and it takes a while. But it can be done.

Sailboats need wind, that’s true. But it’s not the direction of the wind that determines where the vessel ends up, it’s the set of the sail. And that’s under the control of the captain.

I learned this sailing metaphor from Jim Rohn, and while it’s a bit old-fashioned, it’s almost perfect in describing how life works.

The Wind and the Sail

Each of us has a ship to captain and a set amount of time on the water. Plenty is left up to us: our destination, our route, and how we set our sails. One big thing is not up to us, though, and that’s the wind.

The wind represents the stuff we can’t control: our past, the actions of others, and random events. Sometimes, the wind is directly at our back, and we barely need to unfurl our sails to be carried along. Everyone gets a tailwind like this from time to time, and some folks always seem to have one. Other times, we face a punishing headwind. Most of the time, the wind is somewhere in the middle, coolly indifferent.

The wind seems like it matters more than it really does. A skilled sailor can use any wind to her advantage, as we’ve learned. The problem is, it’s sorely tempting to hope for a favorable wind instead of becoming a better sailor.

I fall prey to this all the time. I hit a rough patch in some aspect of my life, and instead of focusing on improving my situation, I get distracted by thoughts like “It’s not fair,” or “I hope things pick up soon,” or “If I wait long enough, something’s bound to change.”

Do you ever have thoughts like this? What a seductive trap.

The only tool we have to harness the wind is the sail: our personal philosophy toward life. We can’t do anything about the wind. But we have total control over our sails.

Four Tips for Trimming Your Sail

When your sails need adjusting, here are four points to consider:

  1. A strong tailwind is a rare treat, and if you insist on waiting for it, you will make little progress. Don’t just wait for things to drop in your lap (I’m looking at you, self!)
  2. Many people have done more with less than you have, and many people have done less with more than you have. You can’t change the past, but you can join either group at any moment.
  3. You can control what you focus on. And you’ll get better results if you focus on what you can control.
  4. The wind is always changing, and all sails need frequent adjustment. You can’t read a couple books on personal development and expect permanent change. There is no such thing as set-it-and-forget-it, so check yourself often.

How do you manage your sails, matey?