Paddling Against the Current

By Steve Gahagen


A couple of summers ago I convinced my wife, Jane, to kayak with me down the Mississippi on a warm summer afternoon in the northwest Minneapolis metro. I figured we would put our kayaks in at Elk River and paddle to Anoka and back.

Prior to our kayaking date, my wife asked me if we should consider taking two cars and leaving one down river in case it was too difficult to paddle back. As we were making our way to the entry point, she once again echoed her concern. I assured her that it was no problem - she need not worry because the river ran pretty slowly and I was sure I had seen other people kayaking up at those points.

As we made our way down the river, a significantly long set of minor rapids should have been a clue that paddling back up the river was going to be difficult. As we neared the next community, two hours downstream, there was another river or creek that fed into the Mississippi. The speed and power of the river began to pick up. At that point, I knew we might be in trouble.

We took a break and began paddling back. I completely underestimated the power of the river. There was a plastic chair along the shore at one point and for over a half-hour we paddled and our position against that chair never changed. If we slowed our furious paddling pace, we would drift backwards so swiftly that every effort of the last hour would be in vain. At one point, my wife was almost in tears. We eventually made it back seven hours later. Two hours down and seven hours back. We had a very quiet ride home. We were very sore the next day.

Working outside of our strengths most of the time is like paddling upstream on the Mississippi. You can get there but it’s not going to be pretty and you’re going to be exhausted. When we play to our strengths, we take advantage of the current and ride the waves.

Questions to consider

I encourage you to discuss these questions around the office water cooler or home dinner table. You can breathe life into people in your sphere of influence as you ask them to share their thoughts.

  1. Share a time when work was like paddling upstream. How did you feel?

  2. Share a time when you were riding the current in your work, energized by what you were doing. What contributed to that sense of being in the zone?

  3. What are the things about your work that fill you with life and energy?

BlogRachael Ingersol