Gently down the stream
The choice we all make is whether we pick a course and steer, or just drift along.
Drifting is what 95% of people choose, and for good reason. It’s much easier, or seemingly so. Plans and decisions are made lightly, thinking is usually short-term and vague, busyness and distractions are the daily focus. Elements like understanding, purpose, goals, strategy, discipline and mindfulness take a back seat, if engaged at all.
That is not to say that it’s the easier path in life. In fact, it’s the more difficult choice, because it never really solves problems, or seeks to create long-term happiness. With drifting, daily life isn’t tied to a well-crafted larger plan or purpose, so it leaves people fighting daily fires, ‘always busy’, with bad habits, unhealthy and unhappy, and often dealing with (avoidable) undesirable results in the long term.
With drifting, enjoyment is an aside from daily life – reserved for evenings, weekends, or chunks of time away from their normal life when they can finally ‘unwind’. Sometimes it’s an actual vacation, but on a daily basis it’s often the escape of sports, gossip, social media, junk food, alcohol, coffee, whatever they need to feel better to get through the day.
That said, drifting is certainly not a life without value. In any life there are great moments, amazing days, lucky wins, along with crushing defeats, challenges, hard work, laughs, love, and all of the beauty of life. And that’s why it’s also easy to assume that there’s nothing wrong with drifting as an approach. And let’s be honest, since it’s just a personal choice, there actually isn’t anything wrong with it as a life choice. The ‘drifter’ will still experience the river, the rapids and calm, the beauty and danger of it all. The river is always an amazing journey, regardless.
The difference is that the drifter won’t be nearly as in control of their journey as the person who actively steers. That includes where they end up, where they stop along the way, how many rapids they avoid, how many favorable currents they catch, how much of the river they see, and whether or not they get soaked or stay dry along the way.
A very small fraction of people learn to steer in life. It takes a bit more daily paddling and course-correction, but it can dramatically change your experience.
Steering is not a guarantee of a perfect trip. Boats still sink, tides turn, and so on. Even with steering, we can be pushed off course and end up where we didn’t intend. However, ‘steering’ also involves a change in attitude, so we’re more likely to make the best of a bad situation or to turn it positive. In fact, specific results actually matter less, because we can choose how to see the journey however we wish. So, we double our chances of a positive experience – first by actively steering to avoid trouble, and second by wearing a life jacket in case we get dumped overboard.
Steering is about taking actions that align with a desired journey and destination.
Steering is about taking the time to learn things before making decisions, thinking things through, planning them out, and then taking thoughtful action toward an end. It’s about casting off weight and carrying just what’s helpful and important to us. It’s about choosing a destination, navigating to it, paddling hard sometimes, resting and enjoying sometimes, and making course-corrections as necessary. It makes for a much nicer trip, and it saves a lot of paddling back upstream, carrying the canoe to a new location over land, and wringing out wet clothes and gear.
It’s about avoiding self-created problems. Steering seeks long-term solutions, not quick fixes or avoidance. It’s about stopping and patching small holes rather than spending the whole trip bailing water (and arriving with a capsized boat anyway). It’s about learning how to avoid rough water instead of paddling harder and longer.
Steering is about doing all of the little things that add up to big things – keeping your boat pointed in the direction you want to go, wherever that may be.