We all do it: We verbalize or write down a specific goal, then we go about “working toward” that goal. But do our actions and behaviors really direct us toward achieving that goal? The poem below from Living a Holy Life by Charles E. Orr illustrates this concept.


The Way the Sail is Set
I stood beside the open sea;

The ships went sailing by;

The wind blew softly o’er the lea;

The sun had cloudless sky.

Some ships sailed eastward, some sailed west,

Some north, some southward trend.

How can ships sail this way and that?

But one way blows the wind.


An old sea-captain made reply

(His locks with salt-spray wet):

“’Tis not the wind decides the course;

’Tis way the sails are set.”


* * * * *


I stand beside the sea of life;

The ships go sailing by;

The winds blow fair from heaven’s land;

No clouds bedim the sky.


But one sails eastward, one sails west,

One north, one southward goes:

How can ships sail this way and that

With selfsame wind that blows?


A voice made answer to my soul:

“’Tis not how blows the gale;

Each voyager decides the goal

By way he sets the sail.”


The author makes a wonderful point. We are buffeted by life’s storms; sometimes the waves seem to be about to sink us and we get blown off course and we don’t even realize it. If you look around, you will notice people who have started with less than you and pursuing similar goals, but they have “more” success or are further along to achieving the goal—why?


I believe it is the way they “set their sails.” They have a clear destination in mind and they set a course toward it. They are navigating with a focus on a specific point and they are able to steer a course toward it because of that focus AND because they correct their course as they encounter the storms.


How are they able to correct course? First, they have a guiding light. They determine their position and direction at any point in time by measuring their progress and checking their location against that fixed point, much like mariners used the North Star or the Southern Cross to orient their positions at sea.


Every day we are at sea. We have winds of change and “chance” blowing us around. Challenging us to make the right choices with our eyes and efforts fixed on that specific goal. We can allow our selves to be distracted and knocked off course or we can choose to keep our sails set to catch the wind and move forward.


Sailors “tack” by moving back and forth, zigzagging across the waters to reach their destination. The path to any point when you are sailing is not a straight line: Currents, storms, wind direction and a multitude of other factors come into play. This applies to goals as well: the quickest route is not straight … you must make adjustments.


To get where you want to go, to accomplish the things you want, you must start with the goal. Then you have to chart a path to that goal and put the wind in your sails and continuously make course adjustments to get there.


You will be challenged on a daily basis by circumstances and changes in the wind. Correct your course and sail on! Keep your eyes on the horizon, check your position/progress and keep your sails full! You will be amazed at the difference when the path you choose and the actions you take are truly aligned with your goal.


Author: Lea A. Strickland, MBA CMA CFM CBM GMC

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