During the never-ending winter some girlfriends and I escaped the frigid Canadian weather for an eight-day kayaking trip in Baja, Mexico with a group of strangers. I hoped we would come back to inklings of spring. We didn’t, but my time paddling in Baja is still with me and I am grateful for the memories on this cold March day.
Activities like kayaking are great metaphors for business and life. The adventure is all about heading out in a particular direction, correcting your course along the way, paying attention to your environment, and adapting as you go. I was in a tandem kayak with a partner and we had to communicate constantly to steer the kayak in the right direction and to maintain stability. Here are a few lessons about business I learned, or relearned, from my time paddling.
1. Use what you know to guide you into the unknown
My imagination almost stopped me from going on the trip as I fantasized about the number of things that could go wrong:
Will I like the other people enough to be with them for eight days in close quarters?
Do I want to put my life in the hands of strangers?
What if the weather and wind and water conditions turn scary?
Do I really want to do this, given how nervous I get before kayaking trips?
How will I manage with my knee injury?
Realistically, I know I can rely on previous experience and my automatic reactions to situations:
I can get along with most people and know how to ignore those who bug me
I am open to adventure and have paddled in challenging conditions before
I know how to get back on track when I’m feeling overwhelmed
I am not alone on this trip and am capable of asking for help
My knee constantly hurts and I always get through the day
I can rely on the credo I use when broaching a new situation: “Go slowly, go slowly, go slowly, keep going.”
In business, we often step into the unknown. We regularly find ourselves in circumstances where we are scared, or confused, or stepping onto a bigger stage. Moving into the unknown is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
2. Miracles are everywhere
Since a kayaking trip by definition is outdoors, it’s easy to spot nature’s miracles. One morning we saw a hundred manta rays flinging themselves out of the ocean, flapping their “wings” with pure abandon, looking like they were trying to fly.
At work in my home office, miracles are more mundane and harder to spot. Going outside has been tough during this relentlessly cold and long winter. One day I got fed up, bundled up, and was humbled by the sideways-blowing snow and wind chill. A cat locked eyes with me, then started escorting me towards a coffee shop. Inside, a conversation with a stranger ended up solving an ongoing marketing problem I’ve been struggling with. Hallelujah.
3. When someone looks nervous, paddle alongside and chat
When the weather turned unbelievably windy and paddling became a challenge, Kathleen, an experienced paddler, noticed that less experienced kayaker Pat was very anxious. Kathleen sidled up and they paddled, chatted and laughed until we landed, about an hour later. Along the way, Pat became more confident and comfortable, and they both enjoyed their conversation.
At work, I am always grateful for a calm and friendly presence when my boat feels tippy. It reminds me to be the one to reach out and provide support when someone needs a steady hand.