Paddling Through Sea - Change

The best way out is always through.
— Robert Frost

While sea kayaking the other day, as I struggled to paddle through the surf zone, my guide reminded me: “Face the waves head on - perpendicularly; if you allow your kayak to become parallel to the waves, you’re very likely to capsize. And if for some reason, you do capsize, it will be more helpful to your rescue for you stay calm.” Ah - and hence a great lesson began to emerge while I was trying to escape work on a sunny summer day to clear my head.

If you’ve ever gone kayaking (or surfing), you may know that the surf zone is a region near the shoreline where waves are somewhat unstable because the effect of the wave hitting shore and refracting into the shallow water. This is not unlike the starting point in a change event or challenging situation where our commitment to or experience in addressing the situation is more shallow.  

To be fair, I could have avoided the challenge I found myself in by choosing not to kayak at all that day, but it was too late for that. Now that I was sitting in the kayak 25 yards offshore, there really wasn’t any way for me to ignore the situation I was in. Not addressing my situation simply meant I would get pushed back closer to shore instead of progressing to my destination three miles away. And even if I decided that returning to shore should be my fate, not steering properly as I returned could result in capsizing or slamming against the shoreline (damaging the boat, and possibly me and my row partner).  

Sound familiar as a day-to-day business or life occurrence? Often we don’t even get to choose the challenge; we are just thrust into it and are now sitting in a wobbly kayak out at sea, watching the waves come towards us and feeling them rock us around. How many times as we try to deal with the waves, instead of tackling them head on, have we either tried to ignore them, slide around them (not possible because more waves keep coming) or move away from it (which means you get nowhere)? I’d like to say for myself and my clients, “Never!,” but I have as many stories for both of us of failure through ignoring/tiptoeing around issues as I have stories of successfully tackling issues with vigor.

My take-aways that day:

  1. Changes and challenges are like the wind and the water - constant and always shifting, sometimes unpredictably.  
  2. You can help yourself manage risk with a small degree of preparation. Anticipate and monitor the prevailing wind directions and take time to understand what you will do in response to a shift.
  3. Addressing a challenge head on will reduce your risk of capsizing (yes, it might still happen).  Allowing yourself to get side-swiped pretty much guarantees you will capsize.
  4. You simply have to paddle hard enough to push through the waves. There’s no substitute for strong effort.  
  5. Learning to leverage the strength of all of your resources, especially your team, is critically important to progress. People countering each other’s effort creates A LOT more work; synchronization and collaboration propel you forward faster. However, developing a finely tuned rowing team takes time, investment, and good communications.
  6. As you get closer to your destination, become aware of your momentum and how to gracefully ride the waves to move fast enough but not tip your kayak forward.
  7. If you decide to return back to shore, do so deliberately and come in for a gentle landing.
  8. At all times, be attuned to your senses and use your core of strength. And even in the face of a capsize – remember staying calm and confident makes it easier to recover than flailing around in the water.

Next time…my advice for playing dead when you meet a grizzly bear of a challenge – just kidding.

How have you dealt with challenges recently? Post your tips as a comment below!

Problems do not go away. They must be worked through or else they remain, forever a barrier to the growth and development of the spirit.
— M. Scott Peck
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