Dealing With Setbacks


Derek, I am a beginner when it comes to the Tao. While I enjoy learning the concepts from your books, I don’t always know how to apply them. For instance, I recently lost my job because the winds of change in the economy forced my company to downsize. This was a big blow to me, and I’m not sure how to deal with it from the perspective of the Tao. Can you help me?


I think your phrase “the winds of change” is something we can use. Chapter 23 of the Tao Te Ching says “the strong wind does not last all morning,” thereby pointing to the ever-changing nature of the world. It would not be natural or realistic to expect the strong wind to last forever. We know that it will subside sooner or later, and when it picks up again, it may be blowing in a completely different direction.

Imagine yourself as a sailor on the seas of fate. How would you deal with the changing winds? You can adjust the rigging and the rudder to leverage the wind, no matter which direction it happens to be blowing. You can even sail upwind by using a series of close-hauled legs to make your way toward your destination. As long as there is wind, the sailboat can take advantage of it.

It is the same with life. We can be certain that the winds of fate will not always be blowing in an ideal direction, but the sailboat metaphor teaches us that it doesn’t have to. The key lies in the art of sailing. When the wind shifts in direction – as invariably it must – we simply need adjust the sail accordingly. The right adjustments will allow us to continue harnessing the power of the wind.

What might be the life adjustments that we need to make following a shift in the winds of employment? The answer is different for everyone. For some, it may be the acquisition of new skills; for others, it may be a different job market or career track that they have not yet explored fully. The important thing to keep in mind as we contemplate the situation is that it is far from hopeless. A master sailor can always make adjustments to leverage any condition.

But what if the wind dies down? If there is no wind, then there is nothing the sailor can do, even if he is the best sailor in the world. Wouldn’t this render the metaphor useless?

No. Quite the opposite. The master sailor is someone who understands that just as strong winds cannot last forever, neither can the total absence of winds. Therefore, he is relaxed in the knowledge that sooner or later, things will change again. He moves about the boat, making sure he has done everything possible in preparation. When the wind picks up again – as invariably it must – it will find him ready to continue his journey.

Derek Lin
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