Important life lessons learned on a sailboat

| Tom Bengtson | August 17, 2011 | 1 Comment

When I was growing up, my father taught me how to sail and it was probably one of the most valuable lessons of my life.

Living in Minneapolis, the City of Lakes, Dad taught me the fundamentals of sailing, which have proven to be useful guides for my adult life, in the business world and at home.

One of the first things you learn in sailing is that you can’t always get from point A to point B in a straight line. If your goal is upwind, you have to sail toward point C for a while before pointing back at your goal. In sailing, this maneuver is called tacking; in business it might be called strategic planning.

Rarely are worthwhile goals attained via short and easy routes. If the route to success were obvious, then everyone would take it. In fact, only some succeed because only some are willing to travel out of their way to reach their goals.

Little things are big things

The next thing you learn while sailing is to pay attention to details.

In sailing, you watch the surface of the lake, or the little pieces of yarn on the halyards to indicate shifts in the wind. If you miss a wind shift and fail to adjust, the boom at the bottom of the main sail could come rushing around and knock you on the side of the head.

Life is exactly the same way. You have to pay attention to the little things. The behavior of those around you, the patterns established by your customers, the interests of your stakeholders all foreshadow the future. Wise people read those signs and respond appropriately. Those who fail to recognize the signs can be blindsided in painful ways.

In sailing, you also learn to pay attention to differences.

When my dad took me to my first boat show at the old Minneapolis Auditorium, I thought all the sailboats looked alike. Dad taught me to see the difference between a day sailor and a racing boat; to notice things like sail configuration, hull shape, and tiller style. I really grew to appreciate sailboats once I knew what to look for.

The same has been true in my professional life. It wasn’t until I knew what to look for that I could appreciate particular workplace skills, artistry, craftsmanship and creativity, or a different approach to management.

No sailor, of course, can control the wind. And I observed that the best sailors never complain. Whether the wind was howling at 20 knots or barely detectible, the best sailors adjusted and made the most of the conditions.

That was probably the most valuable lesson I ever learned.

The most successful people in life and business don’t complain about the things they can’t control; whatever the conditions may be, they figure out a way to succeed.

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Category: Faith and the Workplace