Mountain Mama: The Greatest Life Lesson I Learned from Kayaking

Dear Mountain Mama,

I read your posts every week and you often write about the river. I’m new to whitewater, but I know paddlers often make analogies between kayaking and life.

What’s the greatest life lesson you’ve learned from kayaking?

Just Curious

Dear Just Curious,

By training, I’m a corporate lawyer. That means I’ve studied how to analyze the hell out of a business deal, trying to anticipate potential problems so the parties can agree to business terms upfront and avoid litigating down the road.

My analytical brain causes me to study rapids the same way; coming up with a plan. When I started kayaking, I’d come up with a plan, a back-up plan, and even a back-up to the back-up plan. There were days when I spent more time planning than actually paddling.

I thought that if I was prepared, I could prevent anything bad from happening. Sometimes I’d mess up my line and find myself about to paddle into a hole. Instead of squaring up to the hole and punching it, I’d paddle as hard as I could to avoid it. Often that resulted with me landing in the hole sideways and getting surfed.

I held on to a corporate law career way past my time. A six-figure salary, while nice, left my soul empty. But I convinced myself to stay because it was what I had studied in school and what I thought I was supposed to do.

The river taught me that as important as planning is to success, the practice of letting go is just as necessary. When I’m off the planned line, I can count on my past paddling experience to read water and find another way to go. When Plan A no longer serves me, I’m learning to trust myself to able to respond to the present moment.

I squirreled away money in a savings account I’d dubbed my “fuck it” fund. When I’d finally had enough of late nights and clients I didn’t care about, I walked away from law for good, or so I thought.

Fast forward two years and I’m working in another office practicing law. But there’s a difference between this desk and the last. I serve clients who can’t afford legal fees, often transforming their lives, working a regular work-week.

Every time I paddle, I’m reminded to stay open to possibilities. Flipping upside down or getting surfed on a hole illustrates my resilience, which helps me take risks on and off the water.

Paddle On!

Mountain Mama

Places to Go, Things to See: