During the summer of 2016, I went whitewater kayaking with my daughter. It was a new experience for me, and even though technically, I was “playing,” I learned some important life lessons from the experience and want to share them with you:
- You can’t control the river. All you can do is navigate it to the best of your ability, and isn’t it the same in life? You can’t control life or predict what it’s going to throw at you, but instead of understanding that, we tend to either over-praise or over-criticize ourselves. The people who lead you can help, and you do the best you can to steer, but the river’s going to do what the river’s going to do, and so is life. It’s easy to think we have the knowledge and skill to control our lives, but maybe if we recognize we can’t control it, we’ll become better navigators.
- You may need help to get back in the flow. When you’re navigating the river, it can pull you in unexpected ways, wedging you into a tight spot. They teach you to wiggle a little to get off the rocks…or you can try to push off gently. But occasionally—when you’re stuck—you can’t do it all by yourself and need a guide to help. This is true in life too: no matter how much knowledge and experience you have—or how high you might climb on the ladder to success, when you’re floundering (and you will be from time to time), you need to consult with others for help and perspective.
- When you fall out of the boat into white water, turn on your back and float. Your first inclination will be to struggle and swim, but the current will only make you more exhausted and fill your nose and mouth with water. Turn over on your back and let the current take you to a safer place. If you’re in real trouble, someone will come get you or throw you a rope. That’s what you need to do sometimes in life too, when you find yourself in a rough place. Maybe we just need to chill and lean on our support team members, because they’ll throw us a lifeline and pull us out. Fighting it can cause greater injury than floating on downstream.
- Giving up has its own risks. Whitewater kayaking is a rigorous activity and you can get tired and be ready to give up, just like in life. When you’re on the river, even when you find a place to rest, just getting out of the boat can be dangerous, because the rocks can be slippery or the bottom can be unstable. They tell you not to get out of the boat, but I didn’t always listen. Rather than getting out and giving up, consider the next lesson.
- It’s okay to just coast sometimes. In kayaking, you can work too hard instead of finding a pace and moving through the water efficiently. Don’t we do the same thing in life? We push too hard and wear ourselves out unnecessarily when often we just need to pause and take stock before kicking into high gear again.
Yes, indeed, there are life lessons you can learn from “playing” to make you more effective as a business leader, as a partner, and as a friend. Most importantly, these lessons will help you learn how to live your dreams and not your fears.
I want to give a shout-out to River Riders (http://www.riverriders.com/) — they guided us with skill and patience to make sure we had a safe, memorable experience.