Sunday, January 29, 2012

Know Your Limitations

I started river rafting when I was 14 years old. I had the opportunity to join my dad on a Sierra Club trip he was leading in Grand Canyon with a commercial river company named Wilderness World. It was the first year the Sierra Club had changed their river trip policy to not use commercial companies that used motors. Wilderness World used oar power, no motors.

A few days into the trip, to my alarm my dad was talking to the guides about getting his own equipment. The ability to row a boat through the rapids in Grand Canyon seemed so technical and difficult to me that I thought my dad was crazy.

By the next spring, we had two boats and my dad, my brother Greg, and I were heading up into the Sierra Nevada mountains to run the Stanislaus River. We took one boat and met one of the managers of the river company ARTA near Angel’s Camp, CA to borrow some equipment we didn’t have yet.

Check out the following link for some nice black and white photography of the Stanislaus River:

My dad was teaching my brother how to row and pretty much my dad was learning himself as well. We had a book about whitewater rafting by an author named McGinnis that we used to help us figure it all out in theory. I was a passenger for each trip we did.

My dad was able to obtain a permit to run the Rouge River in Oregon for a summer launch date. I thought they weren’t even close to ready to take on a 5 day trip on the Rouge, so I stayed home and worked.

They came back with stories of a great trip, except for some trouble in a pretty technical rapid called Blossom Bar. More on Blossom Bar in later articles.

The next season, we spent a cold Spring Break on the Stanislaus improving our skills. My dad didn’t think I would be up to rowing yet, so he had a friend of my brother’s along to learn as well.

By the time we started our Spring Break week of rafting, I had spent a lot of time studying the McGinnis book and thinking about how it all worked. Since we now had three boats, I took a few turns at being one of the guides. One thing about the Stanislaus is it was considered an intermediate river, but a somewhat forgiving river also. It was an excellent training ground, but sadly, has been underwater since the mid 70’s due to the completion of New Melones Res.

In the off-season, prior to our Spring Break “boot camp” trip, I realized that I was just not very strong and if I were to row I would need to figure out a different way than to “muscle” my way down the river. I was a pretty scrawny kid at 16 years old.

I decided I was going to figure out how I could use the river as a partner, and not the adversary. Once I decided it was a partnership, I realized I could row. It became a game of finesse and not about how strong I was. I recognized my limitations and figured out ways to use the river to my advantage.

It the years since it has been interesting to watch other guides trying to let their strength be their #1 advantage. My observation has been that the bigger the river, the bigger the problem that kind of thinking becomes.

Besides, why make the river your adversary when it can be your friend? Just look for the routes the river gives you and the way the force of the river can move you where you want to go instead of fighting against such a power.

In our everyday lives we can adopt that same attitude. Why not figure out ways to use the challenges, obstacles, and opportunities in cooperative ways whenever possible.

In today’s US economy and with the struggles it presents, we have a choice to fight against it or learn how to use the economic realities of the current situation to our advantage. Do you just drift along and do nothing while your employer moves closer and closer to your layoff or being out-sourced? Do you just complain and fight the current tax laws or figure out through study or other experts how to take full advantage of those very rules?

Take an honest assessment of your current situation and identify what you don’t like. Then, look at how you can use the available resources and rules to your advantage. If you focus your attention on “it’s not fair” thinking, you’ll be stuck. Any honest reflection of life will tell you that in many instances, life is not fair. It’s what you choose to do next that makes all the difference.

If I say, “It’s not fair that rock is right in the middle of the channel!” that won’t make the rock move no matter how unfair I think it is. I just need to focus on how I can use the power of the river to get me by that obstacle and moving safely down the river again.

In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve moved way beyond the Industrial Age and into the Information Age and our school systems have been struggling to keep up. So we go through our years of schooling to learn how to be good employees in industrial age businesses, and many of those jobs have moved on to other parts of the world. It’s like running out on the field to play soccer, only to find out it’s full contact football. Only those that figured out it’s football rules are the ones not getting hurt. You can complain about the unfairness of the situation all day long, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re in a football game now, not in a soccer game.

Another way to say it is, “You joined this river trip and there’s only one way to go and that is downstream. Every other alternative is even harder and more dangerous.” So instead of “checking out” and just complaining, learn what is coming downstream and what you can to do now to be prepared for what lies ahead.

We can do this and still maintain our optimism, and more importantly, our integrity. There are a lot of cheaters out there, but we don’t have to join them. But we would be well served to know what game we are playing, who isn’t playing by the rules, and just what the rules are.

The game and the rules are best left for another blog. Stayed tuned.

© DTE Consulting 2012 “Helping You To Do The Extraordinary!”

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