With Each Stroke of the Paddle

By Ethan Maurice | December 20, 2016

We all have goals, ambitions, and dreams we'd like to reach in life. We think about them often. We imagine ourselves as masters of this or creators of that. But how often are we just dreaming instead of doing?

I was paddling around in a kayak the other day and realized kayaking is the perfect metaphor for our ambitions in life. In a kayak, paddling is everything. If you want to go somewhere, you have to paddle to get there. Without consistent strokes of the paddle in the direction you want to go, you're merely drifting at the mercy of your environment. You'll never get to where you intend to.

In a kayak, wishful thoughts of your destination might keep you going, but will not get you any closer. The stroke of the paddle is all that counts. Life works the same way. If you know you want to go in a certain direction, master a skill, or pursue anything, it takes consistent, deliberate action.

It seems obvious to us when we're in a kayak that paddling is the only way to reach our destination. Yet, in life, we often wait around wistfully envisioning our dreams and ambitions, overlooking that action is the only thing that will bring us closer to them.

Whatever your ambition, just like paddling in a kayak, you must do it deliberately and often. Speaking improves the speaker. Painting improves the painter. Running improves the runner. Just as in a kayak, where each stroke of the paddle closes the gap between you and your destination, every action towards your goals in life closes the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

It's not just consistency—the frequency at which we paddle is also important. A stroke of the paddle once every five minutes isn't enough to overcome the currents and winds out at sea, just as infrequent action towards our ambitions aren't enough to propel us through the undoubtedly more treacherous sea of obstacles we encounter in life.

One big difference between kayaking and the things we strive for is time. Kayaking lasts minutes or hours, with a stroke of the paddle every few seconds. Our goals, on the other hand, may take months or years to achieve, with action towards them on the scale of days instead of seconds. This time between each stroke of the paddle towards our ambitions in life makes it easier to give up, get sidetracked, or lose faith. And it's for this reason that kayaking is much easier than getting a six pack or chasing your dreams.

I recently finished reading Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman, a book of stories from the incredulous life of Noble Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman. Other than his insatiable curiosity, what struck me most about him was his tenacious, consistent action towards anything he wanted to learn. From picking locks, to drawing, to playing drums, he started out as terribly and faithlessly as any other beginner, but day after day, he kept working at those things. Eventually, this scientist found himself lock picker of nuclear secrets in Los Alamos, a professional artist, and co-creator of a drum only soundtrack for, of all things, a ballet group that placed second in a world championship to his music. If Richard Feynman was world-class at any one thing, it was paddling—consistent, deliberate action.

To close the gaps between where we are and where we want to be, we have to paddle. Kayaking is about establishing a steady rhythm and consistently pulling the paddle. It's the same in life. Repetitive action after action focused in the direction you want to go will get you there.

So here's a question posed towards any and all of your ambitions: Are you consistently paddling, or are you just staring at the horizon, envisioning what lies beyond it?




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