The doldrums

[T]he comfort zone. This is the bane of all athletes, the enemy of all entrepreneurs and creative[s], and the graveyard of dreams.

~ Dan Edwardes from,

This is a ubiquitous problem. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “stuck in the doldrums“? It’s a literal place where there isn’t much wind, and thus the bane of old-timey sailors. But the metaphorical doldrums are just as real. You can avoid the literal doldrums. You can at best only try to avoid the metaphorical ones. Whether it’s literal or metaphor though, the way out is the same: Concerted, intentional effort to go somewhere else.


The best work

Somehow these less-than-ideal conditions raised his game, spurred him on to greatness. There’s a definite lesson here. Fair winds do not a great captain make. We dream of finding our own greatness one day, but we want it to happen when the sun is shining.

~ Hugh Macleod


One—particularly one named “Craig”—can also veer too far in the other direction. Continuously choosing the most arduous path towards each goal is exhausting.

Random weather metaphor for life: (Weather geeks: This is written for the Northern Hemisphere.) Large storms rotate. They always rotate in the same direction. Have you seen a stop-motion video made from satellite photos of a hurricane? If you are standing on the shore, facing an oncoming storm, you can try to avoid it by fleeing to your left, or to your right. (Presuming you ignored the warning yesterday to simply go inland.) If the center is coming directly towards you, and you have a car and just a few minutes… which way do you flee? Left, or right? To the left, the motion of the entire storm, coming at you, adds to the winds of the rotating storm. To the right, the motion of the storm, subtracts from the winds of the rotating storm. A storm with 100mph winds, coming at you at 30mph… Flee left and you get 130mph winds. Flee right and you get 70mph winds.

Seems to me that’s a good metaphor for life. “Oh shit, here comes a storm.” Maybe I should consider which way to go, rather than just fleeing like a rabbit in whatever direction I happen to be facing.

Hey also, while I’m doing weather: The Saffir-Simpson Scale has only 5 categories for a reason. It’s designed to be easy to understand when you hear the number. I sometimes hear talk that we should add a Category 6. Nononono. Category 5 already means, literally, that you should evacuate because nothing survives the 250kmh/160mph sustained winds of a Category 5 storm. So, what would having a Category 6 add? “srsly bro’, flee!”


Scratch the itch

While it’s true (and wise) that…

Not to be driven this way and that, but always to behave with justice and see things as they are.

~ Marcus Aurelius


…counsels a steady hand on the rudder of one’s life, it is equally important to know when to tack.

There’s a terrific bit of “life wisdom” you learn from sailing which goes as follows. But first you need the four rules for sailing:

  1. Keep the water out of the boat, lest you transition from sailing to swimming.
  2. The wind will try to set you in the direction it blows, just as the wind will push a tumbleweed.
  3. The water, (if there’s any current,) will try to make you drift in the direction it flows, just as the current will float you downstream when rafting on a river.
  4. One cannot sail directly towards the wind. There’s an arc of directions to either side of the direction from which the wind blows that are impossible.

The “trivial” exercise of operating the sailboat in various conditions is left for the reader.

Your challenge then is to get to your destination while following the rules. Interesting journeys will involve being near land, (beware Rule 1 because it’s the wet land that always gets you!) or cover long distances, (beware Rule 2 and 3 because their affects are cumulative and vary with time.) Interesting journeys will involve a specific destination which, thanks to unwritten Rule 5 are always to windward, so you cannot go directly there as per Rule 4.

…but you can go sort of towards it if you aim to the left of the wind’s source. And then you can tack, by turning quickly through the wind and going sort of towards your destination aiming to the right of the wind’s source. Doing so is called “tacking to windward.” Modern sailboats are pretty good at doing this. Ancient sailboats had to switch to rowing, or wait for different wind.

Finally, I can get to this part:

You’re going to be paying a lot of attention, sitting relatively still and watching the sailboat sail. You will also be paying attention to your destination which is almost certainly not directly in front of you. Untrained observers, (if they know your destination,) will be thinking, “why are you going in that direction?” Tacking isn’t very hard, but it slows you down and takes time and effort—you’d rather be sailing along, than tacking many times. (Perhaps at this point you’re thinking about geometry and those related-speeds word-problems you saw as a kid?)

While it’s true (and wise) that, “Not to be driven this way and that, but always to behave with justice and see things as they are.” counsels a steady hand on the rudder of one’s life, it is equally important to know when to tack.


What’s wrong with the world

I’m not sure that’s worth linking to. But it is the article that sparked the thought that became this post. So, hat-tip where hat-tip is due.

You’re probably familiar with the common definition of the word “doldrums”: A period of stagnation or slump, or a period of depression or unhappy listlessness. But the common definition comes from the actual doldrums, which is a place in the Atlantic Ocean, more generally referred to as the “Horse Latitudes.”

Here’s the thought I had: I’m in the doldrums.

I’m not in the internally-generated, mental state, that the common definition implies. I’m in a place in my life which is the doldrums.

Old-timey sailors discovered a huge area of the Atlantic Ocean where the winds and sea are unreliable. Once a few explorers got stuck there, “in the doldrums,” on sailing ships, they shared the knowledge with others. Everyone quickly learned to avoid the Horse Latitudes because that place made things difficult.

Long ago I developed the twin skills of self-awareness and self-assessment and set about a long—and ongoing!—journey of self-improvement. But these days, I seem to be stuck in my journey. Why? I’m in the doldrums. I’ve navigated myself to a place which makes things difficult.

Bonus: How did sailors of old get out of the doldrums? When faced with mass dehydration, (it doesn’t rain much in the doldrums,) they’d tie their huge sailing ships to their tiny row-boats, and take shifts towing the ship.