I once was a white water raft guide on the Arkansas River. Out of the hundreds of trips I did down the river there are only a few that stand out in my mind. This is one of those trips. (And no the above photo is not the trip I am writing about.)
It was only a few weeks after I gotten out of training. I was scheduled on an all day raft trip with a senior guide. We had 10 customers, 2 boats and a beautiful day to raft 20 miles of river.
The crew in my raft consisted of two young girls (maybe 12-13 yrs old) and their mothers. Once we started out I realized they couldn’t paddle to save their lives. I would steer us in the direction to go, only to have them not be able to get us where we needed to be. I had steering but no engine.
We pinballed off rocks, spun circles off of rocks and practiced getting unstuck from rocks. If there was a rock in the river we seemed to be magnetically drawn to it. Everything I tried to do and even comments I made, seemed only to make things worse.
We hit one rock so hard that one of the young girls fell out of the boat. In a state of panic, she swam to a small island in the middle of the river. As the day had gone, we were unable to get over to the island before we were past it. The senior guide rescued the girl and was the hero of the day. At the end of the long painful trip, my customers tipped the senior guide twice as much as they did me.
After the trip, I remember complaining about it to some of the other guides. I kept blaming it all on the customer’s inability to paddle. Truthfully, I was embarrassed as the trip had exposed my weaknesses.
As I finished ranting about the day, another guide, Pete, asked me what I had learned from the trip. I was stunned. I had no idea what to say. I think he then asked me what I did right on the rafting trip; however, I couldn’t take in anymore information. My train of thought had been derailed by his first question. What do you mean, what did I learn from it? I thought. As my whole demeanor changed, Pete went on to explain. It is the mistakes we make and challenges that we face on the river that make us a good guide. If every trip was problem free our skills as a guide would hardly improve, if any at all.
I would have totally missed the lessons that existed in learning from my mistakes if it had not been for Pete. However, in order to learn from my mistakes there was something I had to do first; Stop blaming others and own my mistakes.
That rocky trip down the river became one of the best training trips I ever had. It taught me how to teach others to paddle and how to work together. I learned techniques to use the currents of the river to assist me in guiding the boat and I became very good at reading the water which allowed me to spot rocks under the surface of the water long before I got to them.
Thank you Pete, (wherever you are these days) for showing me that there are nuggets of knowledge that can be capitalized on from making mistakes.
Our experiences shape our life anytime we are willing to listen and be open to them. The lessons learned on the river I will never forget.
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