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David E. White - Consultant, Synergy Solutions Group 


Whether you are looking to make change for yourself or your organization, the key challenge is that of aligning actions with vision. So, what inhibits our ability to align our actions with vision? This column is “Part 1,” as I will be exploring three challenges to establishing our will for change and what we might do about them. The first challenge is overwhelm. 

To be overwhelmed is to be deeply affected in mind and emotion, to be surged over and/or submerged, to be decisively defeated. A recent foray into sailing should prove a reasonable illustration for overwhelm. 

My interest in sailing generally rises from childhood memories of hanging out on the rocks near the marina at Oak Bay in Victoria, B.C. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to sail, it was more that I enjoyed the gracefulness of the boat’s movement as it came and went from the marina. 

In short, I took a few lessons, caught on quickly and found myself enjoying the activity immensely. During one of the lessons, I told my instructor that I thought it was one of the most peaceful things I had ever done. I noted that he instantly chuckled and replied, “Yes, it can be peaceful, but it can also go from peace to shear terror in a heartbeat.” 

All of my sailing since that point in time had been in relatively calm winds ranging from 10 to 30 kilometres per hour. While there have been a few challenges, I had not experienced overwhelm – until one day, just 30 days after completing my lessons. 

The Weather Network reported the winds at 35 kilometres per hour, gusting to 60. I was intrigued by the opportunity to sail in this wind, wondering what kind of speed I could generate. As I got the boat ready to taxi out to the middle of the lake, I noted that the waves were pounding the back of the boat with some force. I wondered if I could even get the boat safely docked once I was finished sailing, but set my mind and positioned the boat to where I could hoist the sails and begin my adventure. 

I was doomed from the start. I think it miraculous that my 21-foot Aquarius is not a diving reef at the bottom of the lake. I did not have enough instruction and/or experience in sailing high winds, but I was also trying to operate a swing-keel, tiller and two sails by myself. 

I struggled to get the sails in place, literally fighting the wind with every movement. Sails hoisted, the boat immediately pitched hard to the port side at an angle that made it look as if the small vessel had been a submarine in a former life. 

Somehow the boat righted and we were headed down the lake. The speed was what I was hoping for, but the gusts had the small vessel pitching erratically and unpredictably. At this point, I was still not overwhelmed – but then again, I was headed downwind, and my dock would soon be upwind. 

As I turned the boat to begin tacking upwind, the experience quickly turned to overwhelm. The best way to describe this feeling of overwhelm was that I had lost control completely and was decidedly defeated by a relentless wind. I suppose that there may have been some level of fear in the moment, but what I recall more than fear was being hit so hard in so many ways that I literally did not know what rope to pull, or tiller adjustment to make to improve my position. The boat floundered helplessly – and so did I. 

In the end, I did the only thing I could think of: surrender. As quickly as I could, I began lowering, wrapping and binding my sails. I started my small outboard engine and began to fight my way back to dock. As I passed the beach area, I noted that there had been a few witnesses to this spectacle and wondered if they thought it strange that a sailboat was motoring back to dock. 

“Under pressure,” according to SEAL lore (elite U.S. military unit), “you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training.” 

In my personal post-trauma debrief, I came to the realization that my vision and my actions were out of alignment and I was easily able to identify my need for more training. I had a vision of control, speed and enjoyment, but my actions were ineffective and led me to a place of overwhelm. I found myself at a place of decision: quit, or get some help. 

As my vision continues to hold, I have decided to research sailing techniques more deeply and to look for opportunities to be mentored by more experienced sailors. In this instance, discovering the will for change means to humble myself, acknowledge my recent overwhelm and to borrow from the experience of others in building my capacity for another attempt. 


David E. White is a consultant with Synergy Solutions Group.
Questions and comments can be directed to him at david@synergysg.net. 

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