What JP Learned This Summer


At the end of every summer when my kids return to school their teachers ask the same, time-honored question: “What did you learn this summer?”After leaving school many (many) years ago, I’ve forgotten to stop and take note of what I’ve learned. So for back-to-school this year I’ve decided to look at my own adult summer learning and share it with you.

This summer my husband, our two teenaged daughters, and I decided to turn up the dial on our outdoor adventure, so we booked a trip to Colorado for a little zip lining, hiking, and, of course, water rafting. The rafting was a first for all of us, since Texas doesn’t really boast a whole lot of white water sports. We were all excited for the new experience but the unknown had us all a little nervous.

I have to admit, as we strapped on our helmets and personal floatation devices and got the obligatory legal intro speech on the dangers we’d face, I was terrified. Without much more instruction, we loaded into a raft with a handful of strangers and began our journey. Besides our guide Baker, none of us had any experience white water rafting. And by the looks of our rag-tag band of misfits, he should have been terrified too. At first glance, it appeared Baker would need to do much of the work to get us downstream safely but he seemed curiously calm as he began to give us our pre-launch pep talk.

He started our journey with four simple instructions:

  1. Start with a secure seat and a strong base so you can react to what’s coming.
  2. Hold your paddle from the top with one hand and the middle with the other so you have leverage to paddle strongly.
  3. When I say "stroke," we’re all going to paddle together like a team — even though we just met each other. It’s important that we all work together or we won’t move forward but instead will start spinning.
  4. Hitting rocks is a bad thing and we want to avoid them at all cost. So like I said, #3 is really important.
  5. If we do run into a problem or emergency, here’s how we’re going to work together as a team to handle it.

That was all we got from Baker before heading down river. As we approached the first rapid, the look of panic in everyone’s eyes was apparent. We could all see the rocks, white peaks and more swiftly moving water. But Baker looked ahead, spotted the rocks, and remained calm. He commanded in an assuring tone, “Here we go, we’ve got this. Ok team, everyone one stroke.” With that this band of nervous strangers all paddled in unison to move our raft around an upcoming rock and into a small batch of rapids. We paddled a few more times over the next few minutes, all at Bakers command, and emerged from the first set of rapids just a little wet and full of excitement. With that our fearless leader said, “Well done, now everyone let’s do a paddle high five” which we all did with cheers and laughs to celebrate our first successful challenge.

After a quick celebration, Baker recapped what went well while we were floating on calm water, allowed a few of us to swap seats to get a different view and then prepared us for the next bigger rapid. Onward we went into bigger and bigger rapids feeling more confident and working like a well-oiled machine. By the time we hit the last and largest rapid, we looked it straight in the eye, paddled through and emerged on the other side feeling confident and excited. And, as you can tell, I lived to tell the tale of a successful white water rafting trip.

So what did I learn this summer? It all came from my new friend and fearless leader Baker. You see, Baker had learned a few important secrets:

  1. No matter what crew you have, a good leader who knows how to communicate can reach the goal successfully — even through the most treacherous waters.
  2. It’s important to celebrate after navigating through challenges. It rewards the hard work and gives the team the confidence needed for the next challenge.
  3. Take time during the calm to remember what you learned so you can use it more successfully for the next challenge. That’s also a good time to let team members try new things and gain extra experience.
  4. And lastly, but most importantly, good clear, simple communication is key to preparing for navigating through challenges.

Oh, I’m sure you’re thinking, “well Baker was probably a seasoned veteran to white water and that’s why he was so great. The answer to that is, nope. Baker was from Oklahoma and didn’t grow up on canyon rapids. He’d just been well trained a few months before by other strong leaders on how to be a raft guide.His company understood the importance of training up good leaders with good communication skills. And, that’s all it took to travel safely into new experiences, weather rough times as a team and celebrate with confidence on the other side. Without a little leadership training and Baker’s use of clear and simple instructions, there would have been no fun, no joyous celebration, no success and more importantly, no positive yelp reviews for his rafting company.

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