The Practice of Tacking: How to Get Going

tackingSometimes it is important to get going. We generally think that it is wise to have a clear idea of where you want to go and to head towards that distant goal. However, sometimes we all find ourselves in situations where we have to “tack.”

In sailing terms, tacking is how you sail into the wind. If you want to head into the wind you need to sail from side to side, never heading too directly into the wind (or you will find that your sails begin to “luff” or flap helplesslessly).

If you try to sail straight into the wind you will find yourself not moving at all… and, in fact, pretty soon you will be moving in the wrong direction. Being stuck in this way can be pretty dangerous if you are in choppy water. Without any direction you are much more vulnerable to the waves.

You may need to “tack” if you are trying to achieve something, and making no headway. Or if you are having trouble getting things done at all (often because you are not sure that you can do what you think you have to).

One common scenario involves career choices – you have an idea of what you want to do, but you are not making any progress. People don’t want to hire you, or you are having trouble doing anything that you know you “should” do in order to get that job.

Rather than endlessly castigate yourself, you may want to get underway by tacking. Choose a job that you can get and then, once you are moving again, you may find that you are better able to pursue the longer term goal.

We think this is the basis for the phrase, “if you want something done give it to a busy person.”

Being “stuck” is a state of mind that makes almost everything harder, and once you are unstuck you will often be amazed at how much you can get done.

The key to this strategy is making sure that you are in fact not turning in the wrong direction altogether – the temporary shift in plan can’t take you further from your goal (although it doesn’t have to take you much closer to it).

I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving: To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it – but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.”- Oliver Wendel Holmes