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River of Much Return: Life lessons from a time at the tiller

Guest Post by Peter Moore

I’m spending this week on a spring break adventure at the ocean with my family. So, it’s only fitting that Peter Moore, whom I recently met while speaking to the Pasadena Chapter of PIHRA, fill in for me with a story of his own vacation on the water… and the lessons it offered far beyond sailing.

With great anticipation of the three-day weekend ahead, two friends and I headed off to a local river to begin our slow cruise in our small outboard- engine-powered boat. With a slight breeze blowing, blue skies (well, mostly/partly blue, this was England after all) above, and many much-anticipated hours ahead, we slid the boat off the trailer into the welcoming waters. The river section we chose flowed slowly — we weren’t white-knuckle white-waterers — so we’d be meandering throughout the weekend.  That was 30-some years ago; many specifics of the weekend are now beyond recall, but the insights and learnings we gained are still clear enough to write about today.

Despite its peaceful, calm surface, the river also held hidden traps. I knew drifting too near the bulrushes’ roots or sailing into a submerged sandbank could snarl up the engine and scupper the vacation.  I’d been thinking about a strategy to address these possibilities and came up with a plan to focus on a particular tree at the end of each river curve, then arm-lock the tiller.  It made sense, I thought, to pick out the tree as the goal to head for and aim the boat at it; turns out mine wasn’t the best plan.

Of course, corrections

I navigated the first few bends trouble-free, firmly focused on the chosen trees.  But, on the next stretch an imperceptible side-current slowly eased me off course. Slow enough, fortunately, that I could make the necessary corrections.  However, it took me more time and effort than expected to redirect the boat back to the safe middle course.  In my attempt, I initially over-corrected, giving myself even more of a problem.  From then on I realized, regardless of the surroundings I had to continually change focus. Every minute I had to be ready to nudge the tiller all the while gauging the currents and the distance to each bank. This alertness kept things under control when stronger-than-expected side currents suddenly welled up and started to push me off course yet again, more quickly and strongly than before.

Learning to adapt quickly (eventually successfully) greatly added to my satisfaction that weekend.  And becoming skillful at finessing my course corrections — how much and when to steer to the right or the left – gave me self-confidence in handling those major as well as minor forces.

Similarly, on the voyage of our professional lives we often can and will experience times of potential or veritable shipwreck – the cause being ours or others. Consider the following questions as they relate to your professional life:

  • What “overcorrecting” situations have you experienced and gained from?
  • What have you learned from having to finesse a situation (or survive a wild pendulum swing)?
  • What times of having your finger windward have helped steady the ship?
  • Conversely, have times when managers haven’t been alert caused a veritable mutiny due to their being unprepared for those inevitable issues, personal and professional?

Ways to control, if not conquer, the wayward currents

How can those lessons from that time on the river also apply to business and interpersonal relationships?

  • Develop peripheral vision. For me it meant keeping a 180 degree perspective – a visual finger to the wind; for the business world it means taking in all that’s going on around you. It could be thought of as “pre-listening”: gauging the climate/sensing the crew’s mood.  This will prime you before the time of your next one-on-one listening occasion. (Which might be sooner than you think –or want!)
  • Determine to connect more intimately with people. Especially at a time of needed focused listening. I constantly must ask myself: do I really listen to – not just hear – someone who’s talking to me? Life’s successes greatly hinge on being known as someone who listens to people — much will follow: mutually needed respect, understanding, relationships and results.  A good site for a reality check of your listening habits is listeningimpact.com.
  • Don’t put it off! There was a Guinness ad: “I don’t like it because I’ve never tried it.” We really only have now (today) to “try it.” So make the most of each moment:
    • reflect on what happened.
    • learn from course corrections (good and bad).
    • imagine challenges (plan for but don’t obsess over worst case scenarios) and how you’d prepare for and handle them, then move on.

“Leadership involves remembering past mistakes, an analysis of today’s achievements, and a well-grounded imagination in visualizing the problem of the future.”
-Stanley C. Allyn

In life, as on the river, the currents are ever-changing; yet such lessons allow us to prepare for what we can and respond to the rest as they occur as we go with the flow of the river of life.

Bon voyage!


8 comments on “River of Much Return: Life lessons from a time at the tiller

  1. Christina on

    Whatever you “pen” is always a good read. I appreciated the way you educated readers about the world of change dynamics and how to “go with the flow” versus “bumping over the stones” in life’s different venues. Asking the right questions always helps one gain another level of awareness. You revealed that masterfully as you brought us gently to the next pier. Keep up your brilliant writing and inspiring others!

    Reply
    • Peter Moore on

      Christina,
      So kind and encouraging of you! I also especially appreciate your statement: “Asking the right questions always helps one gain another level of awareness” – certainly a key principle for living a mindfulness-based, people-enriching life. Thanks for your inspirational insights!

      Reply
  2. Timothy D. Finlay on

    Peter, your help editing the Festschrift recently for clarity and flow imbued vibrancy into so many of the articles. Thanks for this and for pointing me to the blog post–I now get to see these qualities in your own writing. There’s some great material on leadership in the archives here, too.

    Reply
    • Peter Moore on

      Tim, thanks for your kind words. And good to know you’ve seen some of Julie’s sparkling writings — it’s a privilege for my piece to be in such company!

      Reply

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