July 27, 2015

Wind and sails

Last week my friend James invited me to join him for a day of sailing on the South China Sea.

I’ve always enjoyed boats – it’s actually a prerequisite to being a true Minnesotan – but ones with sails instead of outboard motors are a bit foreign to me. I was comforted in knowing that he is a great teacher and I’m always happy to learn.

We dragged the small, two-person dinghy to the swash and James demonstrated how to pull the ropes to raise the sail. As I pulled the sail up the mast, the wind began to whip and crack the loose edges. I wrestled with the final fastener, fighting the power of the breeze the whole way. James smirked and slowly spun the bow into the wind. The wind straightened the sail and we snapped the last clips into place, effortlessly. I had just learned my first sailing lesson: Don’t fight the wind, let it work for you.

It was a breezy day, but the speed and direction of the wind was sporadic. Not ideal for sailing, but workable. We pushed off the beach and the sail filled, propelling us out to sea. The boat burst forward with the gusts and coasted through the lulls. When the breeze turned to stillness we simply sat and waited, shoulders shrugged.

In that moment, I understood that our journey was entirely contingent on the wind and our ability to capture its power in our sail. This is certainly no revelation. It’s obvious. But when you realize your journey depends on a single force -- a force that is otherwise imperceptible -- something very noticeable happens. Your body becomes more in tune with the breeze than ever before. You feel it with your skin. You can see it in the distance as it ripples the surface. You can visualize how it will be shaped by the terrain. A good sailor is so in tune with the wind that he can capture any burst of air and use it to move where he wants to go. The same can be said about other journeys.

In our careers and personal lives there will be other types of wind – external factors that can bluster around us every day. But these factors, if processed wisely, can also propel us toward great things. To harness the winds in our lives we must each craft our own sail – our unique ability to turn outside forces into guided movement. Has a new friendship emerged recently? How can that person help you to learn and grow? Are you having an unexpected challenge at work? How can you adapt?

It is imperative to discover which types of ‘wind’ move you and to start paying very close attention to them. Become hypersensitive to the way they feel and how they look. Imagine how they can play a part in your future.

Then, work to continuously craft your sail. Practice using it everyday. If it tears, mend it. If it breaks, fix it. If it isn’t working the way you want, change it.

And finally, even when the seas turn rough, be sure to enjoy the cruise.

From the beach on Lamma Island.


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