Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Risk of Going Alone

Clinging to the side of a swamped canoe in the middle of Lake Wenatchee, I was alone and had no one to blame but myself. 
I have always appreciated time alone in wild places and had decided to paddle the lake at 5 am before anyone woke up and threatened to join me. The lake was a little choppy and it was colder than normal but I had made up my mind. I pushed the metal canoe across the rocky beach and jumped to keep momentum and avoid getting my feet wet. 
I had been paddling for years, I even taught canoeing at Boy Scout camp when I was younger, so I knew better than to sit on the back bench and paddle. Doing so makes the canoe unstable and difficult to control. But it was cold, the canoe was metal and I didn't like paddling from a kneeling position in the middle of the boat. So, sitting on the back bench I set off across the lake. 
It was a beautiful morning. The moon was up and created silver streaks on the waves. As I went I found myself padding more and more on one side of the boat to fight the increasing breeze and keep the bow pointed straight across the lake. Near the middle, the breeze had increased to the point where I could no longer keep the boat straight. I switched my stroke to the other side and paddled hard to turn the boat around and head back to shore. Then it happened. Over I went.
Lake Wenatchee is in the North Cascades and is a deep glacier-fed lake. It's not just cold, it's very cold. As I surfaced, gasping for air and frantically grasping for the boat, I was not only shocked by the cold of the water and the wind but how much trouble I was really in. I chose to be here, I thought. I chose to do this alone and I might die. 
I started swimming, sidestroke, so I could tow the boat with me back to shore. After 15 minutes I was exhausted, painfully cold and no closer to shore. The wind was simply too strong to move the swamped boat alone. I thought about leaving it but was concerned not only about ditching a canoe that wasn't mine in the middle of the lake, but also about a fishing boat hitting it and ending up with trouble of their own. So I kept trying. 
By some miracle a small fishing boat, the only one on the lake as far as I could see, passed close enough to see I was in trouble. He generously offered to tow me back to shore. He tossed me a line and 10 minutes later I was dragging my water-filled canoe up the rocky beach. I was safe. Hypothermic, but safe.
I learned a valuable lesson in the cold water that applies to professional development. Some things you simply shouldn't do alone. Professional development is one of those things. 
We all have stories that we tell ourselves about how we are performing in our jobs, what we are good at, and what we need to do to improve. Sometimes these stories are an accurate self-assessment, but just as often they can be all wet. 
We all have blind spots. Gaps in our performance, work style, approach, etc., that we simply don't see. Or choose not to believe. 
We all have hidden strengths that we take for granted or discount out of humility. This is why you shouldn't go alone. 
We all need the input of others to identify these blind spots and hidden strengths. We need the balance of our own self-assessment and the candid assessments of our leaders and peers. We need the outside perspective to help us identify where we need to improve and where we have strengths that we should build on. 
Professional development is something you shouldn't do alone. That, and canoeing mountain lakes.
Are you working on your development plan alone?

No comments: