I was talking with a rather successful friend of my the other day about different business opportunities and he said something that caught my attention.

Be sure you have enough sail out to catch the wind.

He was telling me that there are opportunities in front of us all the time. Successful people learn how to make the most of those opportunities as they encounter them. With my maritime background I soon realized that there was a wealth of wisdom to be gleaned from that one little conversation.

Master and Commander

Interestingly enough I also just watched the movie Master and Commander last week with my sister. I have it on DVD and she’d never seen it. It was on her list of movies to see so we watched it. (I don’t have that many movies on DVD, so the fact that I own it gives you an idea how highly I think of it.)

As my friend and I were having our conversation I thought about the scene in the movie where the H.M.S. Surprise is trapped in the doldrums. For weeks the sea is flat calm. It’s incredibly hot and there is not only no rain (their water supply is running low) but neither is there even the slightest hint of wind.

There is not much sadder a sight than a sleek lined square rigger built for speed with acres of sail furled out all hanging limp in a dead calm.

The ship’s doctor confronts the captain while the ship and crew are trapped there and during the argument the captain says something important.

I can’t create the wind. I can only harness it.

That gets to the heart of the point my friend was getting across to me. To become successful we must be skilled at harnessing the opportunities when we encounter them.

Opportunities Harnessed Not Created

I’m all about creating, making things happen. That’s why I make a play on my last name and call this blog SuccessCREEations. My personal blog is simply called CREEations.

I’m sure you’ve heard motivational speakers along the way tell you that successful people make their own opportunities. That is simplistic and misses the mark. Just like it might appear to some that sailors are making the wind that propels their vessels, some folks get the idea that successful people make their own opportunities.

A more accurate description of what is going on is that successful people are more aware of what opportunities look like and are so skilled at harnessing those opportunities to maximize them that it appears they are actually creating their own opportunities.

Even someone like Donald Trump who brags about his ability to make things happen is really just harnessing the opportunities that are before him. Does he create the land that he needs for his development projects? Or is does he just have a tremendously good eye for the development potential of property, maximizing the opportunities that the land he develops offers?

A Learned Skill

No sailor goes to sea and knows everything about harnessing the wind on his first day aboard. Even Captain Jack Aubrey with all his skill took time to acquire it. He was so good at his job that his crew called him Lucky Jack. But it took him time to get to that point.

Our culture is very instant gratification oriented. We have this mistaken idea that good things should come quickly and easily. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sure they can happen fast and effortlessly. But that is definitely not the norm.

More often success comes after a prolonged enduring consistent effort. And that is hard. But if you watch the movie, there was not much of anything that was easy about life aboard the HMS Surprise.

The good news is that we can also learn how to harness the wind of opportunity that is before us.

The Weather Gauge

One of the ongoing themes in the movie is the discussion over which ship in each encounter has what they call “the weather gauge.”

In the sailing days the wind was the life blood of the warships. The captain who could make the best use of the wind would often come out victorious in battle. And since the wind was what propelled the ships, the vessel that was up wind was in a position to have more available energy which could be used to obtain a maneuvering advantage over the down wind vessel.

When I was flying in the Navy the fighter pilots had a saying, Speed is Life. The principle is the same as with the sailors of old. The aircraft with the most energy available has a maneuvering advantage in combat. If you are going faster (or at a higher altitude for the experts out there) than your opponent, you simply have more energy resources that you can use to bring your weapons to bear on your enemy.

The Weather Gauge is the same thing. Enter combat from the up wind position. Get the advantage. Skillful captains were experts at maneuvering their vessels so that they could maintain that upwind position throughout the entire battle and keep that advantage all the way to victory.

We need to learn to have the weather gauge when it comes to opportunities. It doesn’t matter whether we are in business or some other kind of venture. We will be much more successful if we have more energy because we are gauging the opportunity correctly and coming at it from upwind.

Think about it like this. Two ships can sail across the same stretch of water, using the same wind, and be going in opposite directions. Sure they will be sailing at angles to the wind and get across the ocean with several course changes to get to their destination. But skillful sailors can take whatever wind is there and harness it to get to anywhere they want to go.

When we become skillful at harnessing the wind of opportunities that are around us all the time we will also be able to ride those opportunities to anywhere we want to go.

So, take the advice of my friend. Be sure you have enough sail out to catch the wind.


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