With the Water

If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation.


At the time of this writing, several friends of The Hill recently competed in the MR340. The race is a 340 mile canoe or kayak race to be completed within 88 hours. Competitors raced solo, in tandem, and in various vessels along the mighty Missouri River. Some paddled for up to 24 straight hours, taking turns sleeping while the other paddled.

The Missouri River travels between 2-3 miles per hour. Some quick math will show you that one cannot simply float along the pace of the current and complete the race within the allotted time. Competitors needed to apply external pressure to the water in the form of oar strokes.

We also know that – based on the sheer duration of the event – that it would be impossible to paddle entirely unbroken. Even if one attempted to paddle for 12 straight hours, we could assume that the efficiency of the stroke would be greatly diminished.

So, we’re left with the strategic application of force – in concert with – the unstoppable momentum that is the Missouri River.

While I was blown away at the mental, emotional, and physical feat of this event, I was moreover struck by the ways in which it looked wildly similar to a life in the midst of change.

Here’s the thing – the river happens. There is no stopping it. The river is neither good nor bad; it’s apolitical. It just is. Are there times one would be frustrated at the pace of the river or even the headwinds rendering the natural flow utterly useless? Absolutely. That frustration is completely normal. But, at the point of frustration, what other options do you have? Paddle or don’t.

Taking offense, being stressed out, resentment, missteps in your journey – these are all “paddle or don’t” choices.

I’m particularly struck by these choices lately. The river will happen. You can either adapt and overcome or allow the river to overtake you. You have the choice to put your oar in the water.

The quote I opened with has become a motto – If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation. Or – if the current stops, realize your oar is out of the water. This is a delicate balance and one that we will never figure out. When do I let the current carry me and when do I put my oar in the water? I don’t know the answer to that.

I do know this – allowing external factors to dictate your actions will stall your development. You cannot change anyone. You cannot change society. Taking offense, inflicting self-harm, and taking your oar out of the water will not change the river. The river doesn’t care.

In your “boat” there are dozens – if not a hundreds – of beautifully complex people that share the same struggle. Together, you can each alternate putting an oar in the water.

Previous Post:


Next Post: