It was not the first time my son said “No” to my “Yes” that day. It felt like the umpteenth, even if it was maybe only the third. I felt like I was slogging through sludge to get anywhere with him, to get anything done. And so I stopped. “I give up,” I said. “This feels as if I’m swimming upstream and I am not a salmon looking to spawn, so I refuse to swim upstream. I’m done fighting.”
My son looked at me, in puzzlement, and then laughed. I had somehow broken our mood and our stuck place, and we moved on. And as our day went on I thought of all the times I swim upstream. All the times I push ahead no matter what. And how often we all do that.
In fact, I was meeting with a colleague yesterday and shared the story with her, as well as my determination to not swim upstream anymore, at least not as much. “Oh no,” she quickly replied. “I always swim upstream. I wouldn’t do it any other way.” “Really?” I replied. “Because I’ve decided I can probably get more done, and have more fun, if I just flow downstream. I love white-water rafting, and I can go quicker on the white-water than pushing against the current. Again, I am not a salmon looking to spawn.”
She looked at me for a minute, then laughed and leaned back into her chair. “Wow. It’s like you just splashed water on my face. I didn’t even realize it. Wow.”
So many of us swim upstream. We push hard and fight and do anything and everything we can think of to make things happen. And sometimes that’s great – sometimes it is as if we’re a salmon looking to spawn and we have to get to our destination. And sometimes I’m sure we can turn around and ride the rapids downstream – and get to our destinations and goals quicker, and perhaps in a more exhilarating ride.
So how do we do it? How do we ride the rapids gleefully downstream instead? Here are a few first steps:
- Notice you’re swimming upstream – As “they” say, awareness is the first step. Sometimes we’re so caught in swimming upstream that we don’t even realize it. Pay attention to how hard you’re trying. Notice if you’re fighting an endless battle.
- Ask yourself a few key questions – Questions that will make you stop and Thoughtfully consider other options, such as: How important is this goal? Is there possibly another way to achieve it? Am I trying too hard? How could I ride the rapids instead?
- Find a way to distract yourself – Although we often think that we’ll be more likely to achieve our objectives if we just keep pushing, often it is stepping away from the problem that allows us to find a solution. Our brains need a chance to work; our bodies need a chance to rest. Finding a way to distract yourself can give you that much-needed break.
- Give up – Sorry, but there are times when this is the answer. There are times to realize the goal isn’t worth fighting for, or you’re too caught up in the fight to recognize that you can get the result you want in a simpler, easier way. Give up (at least for a few minutes), walk away, and see what happens.
- Pick a downstream current and place yourself in it – It may only give you a reprieve and therefore strength to keep fighting the valiant fight, or it may bring you to (or towards) your goal with a lot less effort. See what happens and then decide if you need to swim upstream again.
- Find support – Perhaps you’ve been swimming upstream because all the other “salmon” you’re surrounded with are fighting their way upstream as well. Find others who have opted to take a breather, or go a different route, so that you feel less alone.
There are times to swim upstream. There are times it is important to push and fight. But if you’re like my colleague who is always taking the harder route, perhaps you’ll benefit from finding a rapid and riding it.
What do you love best about riding the rapids?
Please leave a comment to share.
If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.
For support in riding the rapids downstream, contact Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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