Life Lessons, Coaching

The Kayak

Thanks to the generosity of friends, I’m spending August at the Chautauqua Institute in a beautiful house on the lake. I can’t imagine a better setting in which to build a business and lay the foundation for success in my new venture. The grounds are breathtaking and soon after arrival I grabbed a life jacket from the porch and made for the dock to venture out in the homeowner’s double kayak. It was a bit windy, and as such there weren’t many boats on the water. 

“Perfect!”, I thought, “less chance of being run over by a speedboat.”

Having no idea how far it was, I set my sights on the opposite shore which I guesses to be just over a mile away. I wanted to touch it - to say I’d been across the lake. Excited for a new adventure I pushed away from the dock and into an experience. 

It took about 20 minutes to reach the other side and I pulled in next to a small floating dock with a giant bobble head owl meant to keep the seagulls away. As I sat on the dock basking in my achievement I looked at the owl, “Whoo… whoo” I said to myself with a grin. My inner dialogue took a serious turn however when the owl’s coo became elongated into questions like, “Whoo? Who are YOU to be here? Who are you to be coaching coaches? Who made you an expert in communication? Who?” As the conversation with my nodding companion began to get real I decided it was time to move on. Action has always been a great remedy for fear and doubt. 

Looking back across the lake I noticed the whitecaps were clearly present now and the wind had increased.  I aimed the kayak straight across and after a few strokes I noticed that already I’d been pushed further down the shoreline. 


Since it was an open top kayak the present danger wasn’t just in getting back, it was “how do I keep the small waves from inviting themselves on board??” My rowing across a windy lake in a double kayak experience was exactly zero. But, my paddling a surfboard into choppy break experience was high, so I did what I knew and pointed the kayak directly into the waves - and into the wind - and got to work. 

10 minutes later I looked sideways and realized I was only about 300 yards from shore and that it was going to be a long journey home. This was the same moment a twinge of panic set in. I quickened my stroke rate in an effort to cover more ground and minutes later recognized the need to pace myself. I stopped paddling to rest and felt the boat immediately drift south of my landing point. Long story shorter, it took over 3 times as long to get home, and I learned a lot along the way;

When you feel called to take an adventure, go for it! Whether or not you’ve done it before, whether or not you’re fully prepared, whether or not others think it wise or have found success in it. Jump in, start paddling, and see what happens.

Be your own cheerleader. On the way back I repeated “deep-stroke-strong-stroke” in rhythm with my paddle to stay focused on what needed to happen in the moment. 

When you reach a goal, celebrate it! I let out a little “WHOOP!” when I first reached the other side, and before my questions with the owl began I took a second to savor the view. 

- Meet challenges head on to get where you want to go. It will get tough. And the times you’ll want to rest are the exact moments when it’s crucial that you keep going.

Be mindful of how you spend your energy. If you’re gonna paddle, make each stroke count! Deep and strong, as skimming the surface will only take you so far. 

At times there will be doubt. LOTS of doubt! Who are you to do this thing? How dare you? And yet here you are… sometimes in the middle of a lake with the elements working against you. Remember that you have resources (a paddle, a life jacket, a kayak) and you have intangibles (work ethic, positivity, commitment) the combination of which is uniquely your own. Keep showing up. Again, and again, and trust that you already have all you need to make it.

- The path may not be what you imagined - `and it may take a lot longer than you planned - but stay the course. It’s absolutely worth it!

- Finally, when you do get to where you’re going, be grateful. And then in gratitude, set your sights on future adventures and enjoy!