1. You have to commit if you want to improve
There are a lot of different things you can do with your life, but if you don't put much effort into any single area, you most likely won't get very far. We get more out of long-term relationships than transitory ones. We learn more, contribute more, and generally make more money and find success when we commit to a career path. You can change and adapt, maybe even start over in something completely new, but at the start you need to give it everything you've got if you want to get the most out of it. Life requires more than dabbling.
2. If you mess up, you can't just quitEveryone gets off line once in a while. You miss your boof, you misjudge the current, you get flipped over. In the middle of a rapid you can't simply stop and get off. You roll up. If that doesn't work, you try again. You quickly take stock of the situation you're in now and come up with a plan to get back to where you wanted to be, or you find a new path to the bottom.The river doesn't quit so neither can you.
No one's life goes perfectly according to plan. We lose jobs, we say the wrong things at the wrong time, we make bad choices and suffer bad luck. But complaining about it doesn't get you anywhere. Neither does beating yourself up. The way to get ahead is to look forward and figure out how to go there, to make the best of whatever situation you've landed in. You keep fighting. And bonus points if you can learn not to mess up the same way again in the future.
3. Everyone is on their own path; enjoy yours
Success is such a vague word, but so many people want to define it explicitly. Even worse, they let others define it for them. Chasing someone else's goal is never going to provide satisfaction. If you take a little time to decide what's important to you, what you want to get out of life, it becomes much easier to see the path to get there. Don't be jealous of someone ahead of you - they might be headed in the other direction. Don't worry if someone walks faster - they might have farther to go. Stop comparing yourself to others and you'll not only find more joy in your own successes but you'll be better at helping others achieve theirs.
4. The opportunities you skip are what you regretSome rivers only run in big rains. Some require permits that are hard to get. Still others cost a lot of money and time. They're always worth it.When we look back on our paddling careers we remember the once-in-a-lifetime dam spill, not the day of work we skipped to go paddling. Eventually we make enough money that we don't even notice what we spent on that Grand Canyon trip. The more stories we have to tell, the more time we've spent with our paddling buddies, the bigger our smiles. What we regret is the river we never ran.
Life is about experiences, not things. Everyone knows this. Every old person says so. Yet we constantly make choices in our daily life that prioritize material goods over people and activities. We work hard now with the justification that it will lead to a better future. While it's fine to be responsible, it's good to build a nest egg and lay the groundwork for a successful life, it doesn't have to be at the expense of living in the moment. Take time off to spend with your kids. Blow the budget on a vacation to see old friends. And if you ever get a chance to go on a multi-week river trip - take it!
5. Who you go with is more important than where you go
The same is true with work. The same is true with friendship. It's easy to fall in with a random group of people and even easier to let people stay in your life who shouldn't be there. Kayaking is a crucible that grinds away the outer shell and reveals who people really are, which makes it easier to choose who you want to hang with. But we can do the same in life, we just have to look a little harder. Pay attention to what is said and left unsaid. Observe how they handle themselves in stressful situations. Trust our instincts. Most importantly, we do have the power to choose who we want to spend our time with and who is a negative influence that should be avoided. Everything we do, every trip we take or day spent behind the desk, is either lessened or uplifted who we share it with. Choose wisely.
Of course, I've learned a lot more from kayaking over the years. Too many things to fit into a simple list, and I'm sure as I continue to paddle I'll learn many more. But these are five truths I remind myself of on a daily basis. How about you? What has kayaking taught you?