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What is Ambition?

“What is the difference between a small business owner and an entrepreneur?”

When I was a sophomore in college, I took an entrepreneurship speakers series class, where, twice a week, we listened to presentations from a variety of business owners.  While simple, this was one of the most important classes I’ve ever taken, as it allows you to bridge the gap between textbook and reality.

One particular student asked the owner of a growing start-up what the difference between a small business owner and an entrepreneur is. Obviously, this is a very subjective question, and the guest speaker’s response was that to him there is no difference.

Personally, I disagree.  What is the difference in my opinion? The end goal. Are you happy with a small shop down the street, that you physically manage and operate on a daily basis, or are you a visionary? Do you see expansion? Do you want your small start-up to grow to international proportions while bringing in billions in gross revenue? I don’t see any reason not to. Then again, I am the type of person who cannot feel “trapped.”

Ambition and complacency, in my opinion, are opposites.  They are mutually exclusive. Yes, you should be happy with what you have, and obvious well-grounded and thankful for everything you have been given, but I feel as if you should always strive for more. Why start something if you’re not going to take it all the way? I didn’t invest thousands of dollars of whitewater kayaking equipment and travel expenses to only paddle class three.  I didn’t spend three and a half years acquiring a bachelor’s degree to settle down with some random job in some random town for the rest of my life. Why make investments if you’re only going to put in partial effort?

Do you really want something, or do you only kind of want it? I’m sure any rational person would want a large income, lots of travel, nice cars, and a plethora of world experiences. But how many are willing to work for it? Obviously, life is a give and take, and you have to make priorities. I’m not saying it’s all about financial success. If you want to be a successful musician, athlete, writer, etc. the process is similar. So, what really is ambition? In my opinion, two things: prioritization and sacrifice.

To make the most of something, you need to establish it as a priority. What does this mean? It means sacrifice is needed. What is less important, and what can you sacrifice? For example, I love skydiving, which requires large investments in equipment, as well as travel and other miscellaneous expenses. I want to take this sport as far as I can, and not have it just be a “weekend hobby.” I sacrifice time I could spend doing other stuff. I don’t live in a ridiculously expensive apartment even though I could afford one, because I want more money for fun. These sacrifices vary per person, and can include things such as food, living conditions, expensive cars, time with significant others, etc.

What do I think is the single largest killer of ambition? Geography. It should go without saying that willingness to relocate increases the pool of jobs available, and in many cases, can accelerate your career and company growth. I love where I grew up, and while I prefer to not stay there, would be willing to if the opportunity presented itself. However, too many people these days are afraid to leave their hometown or surrounding area. They don’t stay because of opportunity there, they stay because of fear. They are afraid to take risks, accept change, and try new things. All three of these are a necessary part of ambition and success. Part of moving forward in life is being able to leave things behind.

So, what is ambition? Ambition is the drive to not settle. Ambition is the ability to see a goal as so important you are not only able to make sacrifices to reach it, but you are able to justify them to yourself. Ambition is the belief that even if you are happy with your situation, you should not get comfortable.

Of course, this is different for everybody.  We’ve all heard the phrase, “Too many chiefs, not enough Indians.” Sure, some people have different definitions, and some people simply want to be comfortable with where they are at. I don’t like or agree with this mentality, but to each their own, and we need people like that. We all have different goals and different definitions of happiness. I don’t want to grow-up to be another quietly working complacent man wasting away in small town America. I want to set goals that might be slightly out of sight. I want dreams large enough to scare me.

I want to know that there is always more opportunity, more potential, and more to this world than I currently know. That is what I think ambition is.

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Social Media – The Perfect Scapegoat

Social media is undoubtedly a hot topic in modern society.  To some it’s pointless, to some it’s the backbone of their daily life. While definitions may vary slightly, this article might very well be considered social media.  YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus, LinkedIn, Pinterest, HookIt, FourSquare, Snapchat, are all examples of this concept of social media that seems to conquer everyone’s life.  I probably could have even made up some platforms that don’t exist, included them in that list, and many people would accept them as real.  It has become so prevalent in daily life that some people ask why we need it, while others ask how we could live without it.

Alright, so what exactly is social media?  If you were to ask me to define it, without referencing any outside sources, I would say something along the lines of, “Social media is a platform that allows virtually anybody to share and receive information via electronic means.”  Some might challenge that definition as being too broad, as it would also include programs such as email, but every aforementioned platform I have named fits the criteria of that description.  I think the key part of this description is the phrase “virtually anybody,” as what we would often refer to as ‘standard’ media only allows for those in control to share information.  A common example of this would be a news source such as CNN, or the concept of network television.  While many people can receive information, only a select few can transmit that information.

Social media has its many benefits.  I personally have received athletic sponsorships and potential job offers through social media.  I have met friends, acquaintances, and even romantic partners through platforms such as Facebook.  The marketing and advertising potential for corporations is huge.  It is easier to spread information regarding a product of service via “word of mouth” means on a forum where you can reach hundreds or thousands of people at once.  In addition, collecting and analyzing data through concepts such as likes, views, and shares provides an edge to business.  Entire jobs in the field have opened up due to the potential financial benefits of social media technology.  Social media provides a new avenue to learn about different cultures, ideas, and geographic areas.  It also has its benefits on the political side, including giving a voice to people who might be ignored by mainstream media.

Of course, it has its downsides as well.  These range from cyber-bullying to physical danger from contact with an unwanted person to what is probably the most common argument of all: saying it overtakes people’s lives.  This opens a whole new discussion, one that I am trying to avoid getting into.  I will say, however, that I believe not having any social media whatsoever actually puts you at a strong disadvantage, as you are denying yourself access to potentially huge resources. Nonetheless, overuse or improper use has its negative effects as well.

I think there is one particular aspect of social media we need to focus on:

“Social media is the art of making your life appear more exciting than it actually is”

– Unknown

I, unfortunately, tend to agree with this quote.  Of course, this trend is not limited to social media; if anything it is a common occurrence in daily life.  When you advertise a product, you ignore the less-than-appealing parts.  The same generally goes for a sales representative trying to sell a good or service.  Even when pursuing potential friends or romantic partners, it seems that we highlight, or even exaggerate, the positive aspects of our life, while sweeping the negative underneath the rug.

I don’t think the problem actually comes from the act itself.  I tend to post a lot of positive things on Facebook.  Getting my pilot’s license, or my skydiving license, or graduating college, etc. these are all things that I have been very proud of and would like to share my success with the friends I have, and social media is a great way to do it.  Similarly, whenever I travel, or see or do something exciting, I don’t see anything wrong with posting about it.  If anything, I find it to be a potentially good way to inspire others, or at least open their minds to something new.

So what is the problem exactly?  It’s how people respond to perceived inadequacy.  If anything, it seems that it doesn’t matter what we actually do with our life, just how others perceive it.  We get involved in this race of trying to outdo others, when in reality, we don’t actually fix anything.  We just change the perception.

If the posts you see from others get you down, and make you feel that your life isn’t very exciting, make your life more exciting.  I’ve actually seen people remain dormant for long periods of time on Facebook, then when suddenly that one vacation to Mexico comes up, BAM suddenly it’s all over their profile, gathering likes left and right.  Or, even better, somebody does something they consider to be exciting once in their life, and it becomes their profile or cover photo for a long time, even though it doesn’t accurately represent how they live their life.

At the risk of sounding abrasive and unprofessional, I’m going to say something controversial that I believe is fact: many people live boring lives.  As Benjamin Franklin once allegedly said, “Some people die at age 25 and aren’t buried until age 75.”

What we’re doing is we’re blaming social media for this craze of people thinking their life isn’t exciting or glamorous enough, when in reality all social media is is simply a medium for people to exchange that information.  The problem didn’t start because of what some people posted on the internet; the problem started with how people would interpret and respond to it. I think some people are the problem, and some are not.  I encourage everyone to go onto Facebook and pull up the pages for each of the following people:

  • Jeb Corliss
  • Rush Sturges
  • Tyler Bradt

I can almost guarantee that seeing the adventures they post, not necessarily the extreme sports but even just the traveling and trying new things, will make many of us feel that our lives are somewhat “boring” or “too normal” or “inadequate.” However, this isn’t a ruse.  These people actually live the life they describe.  They don’t do that thing where they only do something exciting once a year then parade it all over Facebook, then once a month post it again with some “Throwback” caption.

I think the best compliment anyone has ever given me was, “How do I live your life?” or “Thanks for making my life more exciting.”  And, to be honest, my life pales in comparison to some of these guys, as well as where I want it to be. I skydive on average every weekend if weather and finances allow, I travel out of the state usually at least once each month, primarily for whitewater kayaking.  I’ve left work with a boat on my car to drive an hour and paddle a section of waterfalls after work.  I have a pilot’s license, and have flown across multiple states and back, as a “class” in college.  I love exploring, I love photography and videography, and I love extreme sports.  This is the life I live, and I have no qualms regarding posting about it somewhat regularly on social media.  My life circles around adventure and pushing new limits; that is how I define my life, and this is the life I aspire to continue living.  For this reason I have no qualms about posting photos on Facebook of myself skydiving or kayaking a waterfall or halfway across the country in some random state next to a statue or cool landscape.  The reason I have no qualms is because I feel like I’m not pretending.  I also don’t even feel like I’m reacting to somebody else, or trying to prove myself to others.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t all about excitement or adventure.  In fact, I see it with concepts such as “success” or “glamour” as well.  It’s not unreasonable to be perfectly content with your life, then see that your friend from college has landed a big-time corporate job and start to question yourself.  However, you just have to ask yourself two questions:

  • Should I use this as motivation or inspiration to try to do better things with my life?
  • How do I actually go about improving my life, for myself, and not just improving the face-value words and photographs I put on social media?

This actually reminds me of the episode of Family Guy where Peter goes to a high school reunion, wearing an astronaut costume, trying to pretend that he is some big-shot that he’s really not.  In my opinion, there are two alternatives to falsely claiming a life he didn’t have that he could have done: A) Actually live the life he was trying to represent, or B) Just be proud of the life he has, and not feel the need to lie or exaggerate to impress anybody

Personally, I do think we have a culture that condones and nurtures a “boring” life.  I tend to think that the societal definition of success focuses around money.  After all, somebody once said, “Go to school for sixteen years, then work until you die.”  I think our entire culture needs to be looked at in some regards.  I’m a believer of “work to live, not live to work.”  I think we need to do better to encourage an exciting life, even though that definition varies per person.  We live a life guided by fear.  Even worse is the fact that we actively deny it, and replace it with more positive-sounding terms such as “stability.”  We refuse to pursue our goals and passions because it involves a degree of risk.  What is that risk?  That risk is losing what we have, even though oftentimes what we have actually keeps us unhappy.  A good example is somebody being unafraid to pursue their dream job because they have another job with decent job security, even though that job is slowly killing them from the inside out.

So what are we doing instead?  We are using social media not only to lie about ourselves, but we are using it lie to ourselves.  We are using it to describe a life we don’t have because we are unwilling and afraid to pursue the life we want.

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May Flowers – Cheat River Festival 2015

April showers bring May flowers. This old adage to me has always felt like a way people would just try to justify weather that they don’t like.  When you live in Ohio, springtime weather doesn’t make sense.  From somebody who has monitored the weather on a daily basis for years as a pilot, I will preach this til I die.  I think some people are tired of the winter and just want warm sunny weather, and rain puts a damper on their plans, so they justify it with the metaphor of flowers blooming in May.  Realistically, though, who cares about flowers?

For whitewater kayakers, however, April showers can create some fun times.  In many areas, the spring snowmelt (and associated higher flows) is over.  Now, we are starting to rely on a combination of rainy weather and dam releases to have some fun.  Sure, rain isn’t as predictable as snowmelt, and sometimes involves stopping whatever you are doing in order to grab your boat and drysuit and go make a run for it.  Any kayaker in Ohio who has paddled Tinker’s Creek knows what I mean by this.

Every year, the first weekend of May is the amazing event that we call Cheat Fest.  Hundreds of experienced boaters pile down to Albright, West Virginia to set-up tents and cots, drink beer, eat greasy festival food, and enjoy the many miles of paddling that the area has to offer.  Cheat Canyon, Cheat Narrows, Upper Yough, Lower Yough, and multiple sections of the Tygart are all within a reasonable distance.

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Cheat River Campground

Cheat Canyon is a beautiful and exciting run.  A Class IV run with a Class V+ shuttle (pick your lines and don’t bottom-out your car), there is nothing like it this weekend.  As an added bonus, the campground is at the put-in.  Literally.  Carry your boat 100 feet, and in you go.  I am a huge fan of big water, something we don’t really have in Ohio, so needless to say this run is worth the trip.

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Decision Rapid, the “entrance”

A nice thing about the Cheat is how it begins, with a rapid named “Decision.”  For most paddlers, this allows for a nice little warm-up, finding tongues and working our way around holes.  For some, it is a reality check, giving them the “decision” to hike out if they need to.  The entire river is read and runnable, although I’d recommend following someone’s lines (and/or scouting) a few rapids, notably High Falls. Very fun rapid but it can get shallow and sketchy.  Let’s not forget the other good ones, such as Big Nasty, Coliseum, and Pete Morgan, the latter two being my favorites on the river.  Some correct lines are also a little intimidating (“Wow I should not be this close to that rock/hole”), but hey, that just adds in to the fun factor.  The holes in this river can give you one hell of a beatdown.  Not only that, but good luck hiking out the river after Decision.

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Pete Morgan Rapid. Hug the rock and land the drop!”

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Riding the initial tongue into Big Nasty.

The only photo I have at the moment (until I get around to some video screen-grabs) of Coliseum is a first-person shot taken while approaching the top of the rapid.  I’m not posting it because it does not do the rapid any justice.  The line through Coliseum involves finding a tongue between two holes, a tongue which is not much wider than your kayak.  Extremely fun rapid, but I would not want to be in those holes, especially Recyclotron on the right.  Oh, and don’t fight too hard to make a path around one of the holes, because if you do, you are setting yourself up to quite possibly just be going into the other one.  Immediately following Coliseum is Pete Morgan, and extremely fun line that involves hugging a rock while riding over a drop, all the while not getting surfed at the bottom.  Caught a beautiful eddy right after the drop; just another reason why I like a boat with edges.

Cheat Canyon is a blast, especially if you spend most of your time read and running.  Plus, then you might get to spice it up with a few not so great lines, all the while side-surfing and fighting your way into a trashy pillow of water or fun wave train and bracing and punching your way down.

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Great playspots and great lunch spots

Pete Morgan is also a very fun rapid to run, eddy out, and watch other people drop through while standing and videotaping from a rock.  I’ve seen some pretty funny carnage there.  This is also a very good river to remember to throw yourself into a rock if you get pushed into one.  Some of them can be kind of funky, but in a fun way.

This river is a very good warm-up for the real excitement, which is the shuttle out.  Very rocky roads, wide enough for a single car, alongside drop-offs.  All-terrain vehicles are not a bad idea here.  My Honda Civic? Forget about it. I’m catching a ride with somebody else, even if I have to bribe them with a six-pack.

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As far as the festival goes, it is a very chill time.  All of the main camping, even if off festival grounds, is within an easy walking distance.  In my memory is correct, there are less food, gear, and souvenir tents than Gauley Fest, and it’s a little more difficult to buy and sell used boats, but the food is amazing, and if you enjoy bluegrass music, this is the place for you. 10845849_10206874859372908_7605201688295985085_o

If you want to buy new boats, open canoes, or squirt boats, you are in luck.  All of the aforementioned were available for sale, and in large numbers.  Piles upon piles of boats were out for adoption, of every make and model.  Liquid Logic was showing off their new Braaap, Blackfly Canoes had a few different models available, Russ’ Ribs had a food truck with some outstanding food, and probably every 2014 boat model from any of the major manufacturers was available, in a multitude of size and coloring.  The festival attracts many non-kayakers as well.  WVU students, locals looking to check out the festival, artists selling their work of all kinds, the list goes on.  To top it off, they even had a smoothie stand.

Unfortunately, due to scheduling issues, I was only able to drive down this year Friday evening (after the race), and had to drive back Saturday evening, spending a total of close to 10 hours in a small car with a Wavesport Recon jerry-rigged onto the top.  And there is no question in my mind that it was worth it.  All kayaking festivals are fun.  Cheat Fest, Gauley Fest, Stoneycreek Rendezvous, Ohiopyle Over the Falls Festival, you name it.  But something stood out about Cheat Fest.  It has an aura to it that I find difficult to describe, but worth experiencing.  Being able to lay on a cot in a peaceful nighttime environment and falling asleep while looking up at the stars is always a pleasant experience.

After some very fun time hanging out at the campground and festival, I had to unfortunately turn back and head to Northeast Ohio, arriving just after midnight, in one of the most physically-tired states I’ve been in in a long time. Nonetheless, it was worth it because I spent the following day at a dropzone doing my first non-tandem skydive, and believe me, pulling that cord and flying a canopy around by yourself, while descending a couple thousand feet and maneuvering yourself to a safe landing, is a feeling that nothing can replicate.

Every large kayaking event leaves me with the same belief: go to festivals.  If you have to take off of work, do it.  If you have to spend $100+ in gas money to get down there, do it.  If you need to bring your dog down with you because you can’t find somebody to feed him, do it.  Besides, they love the festival as much as we do.

Now, we count down the two weeks until the next one.

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-Cheat Fest

-Gauley Fest

-Stoneycreek Rendezvous

-Falls Fest

-Bridge Day (BASE festival, but might as well paddle the New River Gorge while you’re there)

The list goes on.  These are just some of my favorites; there are way more festivals than this that are worth going after.  Last but not least, let’s not forget the race happening on the Little White Salmon!

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Advance Your Life – Travel and Relocate. And Often.

manhattan DCIM130GOPRO great falls3 ice

[Clockwise From Top Left: Manhattan Skyline (NY), Stoneycreek Canyon (PA), Cuyahoga Falls (OH), Great Falls Virginia and Center Lanes (VA)]

I grew up moving, all the time. I’ve lived in places all across the country, from as short as barely a year, to three years, four years, etc. As a kid, it was stressful at times.  Sometimes I moved in the middle of the school year.  Usually, I didn’t know anybody.  Sometimes I would say goodbye to somebody and never see them again.  As with anything else in life, it came with a cost.  However, it also came with its advantages.  Are the advantages of constantly moving and traveling worth the cost?  Does it create a “profit” or metaphorical “net revenue” of sorts?  Well, that’s rather subjective.  But if you ask me, it is a solid, 100% “Yes.”

It seems that wherever I go, there are people who are deadset in believing that where they live is better than somewhere else.  “I hate the city,” or “I hate the country,” or “I hate the West Coast,” etc.  In fact, I hear this all the time.  And to be honest, there is nothing wrong with having an opinion. After all, having an open mind means giving things a chance, not necessarily liking them.

Being open minded means giving things a chance, not necessarily liking them.

However, I always felt that I had a bit of an advantage.  I got to see many different geographic areas, climates, subcultures, etc. which, I feel, allowed me to judge things a little more objectively.  Personally, I’ve seen relatively few people spend their whole lives in the exact place where they grew up.  I’ve also seen relatively few people marry the first person they dated, or spend their career in the first job they’ve had.  Fact is, you probably don’t know exactly what suits you, or what is the best fit, and there is a bit of a trial and error process in place.  We’re human, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The question becomes, why are people afraid or otherwise unwilling to give things a try?  There are multiple reasons, but one is opportunity cost.  In a lot of cases, trying something new would mean giving up something else.  And since we can’t see into the future, you are taking a risk by doing so.  Other reasons could include complacency, i.e. being happy with where you are and not really desiring anything else.  Resources can be tricky (moving and traveling are not always cheap!), economic factors can come into play, and to be honest, somebody could realistically come up with any reason they want as an excuse not to get out and do something new.

Well, I for one believe that virtually any argument has a counterargument.  Taking a risk, and possibly losing something you already have? Well that’s a reality.  And in many facets of life, success is impossible without risk.  However, that’s why risk is calculated.   I’ve kayaked over waterfalls, jumped out of airplanes, and applied for jobs I had no prior experience in.  Yes, in the end there is a roll of the dice involved.  But if you put an amount of preparation and rational thought into things, you mitigate that risk.  If the reward is therefor greater than the consequence, the risk is no longer “unnecessary.”

Happy with where you are?  Well, that’s fine.  But are you always going to feel that way?  Is your good situation permanent? Have you even given other things a chance?  These answers will vary person to person, and everyone is different.

Are you lacking resources?  When people say they lack resources, I turn around and say “are you lacking priorities?”  Generally speaking, if you put your mind to it, it can be done.  Blind people have climbed Mount Everest and kayaked the Grand Canyon.  Other people have lost hundreds of pounds of weight, while others have climbed from poverty to multimillionaires.

Prioritization is a game of sacrifice

If something is important, you will find a way.  If it’s not, you will find an excuse.  I’m not telling you what your priorities are or what they should be.  Do what is important to you, just make sure you find a way.

Packing your bags and moving somewhere new is a difficult thing for anybody.  So let’s go ahead and switch gears a bit, and focus on traveling instead.

There are approximately 7.2 billion people inhabiting 57.5 million square miles of land on this planet.  Every single one of them has a unique story, and many of them possess knowledge and skills that you don’t (I only say “many” because saying “all” would be a slightly flawed and oversimplified methodology considering that some of them are recently born infants). After all, if you look at history, you will see how the spread of ideas influenced technological development worldwide.  When the Inuit were using kayaks decked with stretched animal skin for hunting, did they ever think that eventually the same craft they helped invent would be created from rotomolded polyethylene and taken over 100′ waterfalls?  Probably not.  But ultimately you could trace the genealogy of this sport back to the hunters inhabiting Alaska and Greenland that created the first versions of the vessels we used.

Ultimately, many skills and inventions are derived from necessity or convenience.  Peoples that inhabited wide areas of desert would have little need for watercraft, and peoples in tropical areas wouldn’t have the same need for extremely warm clothing than those living in the northern extremes.  Additionally, it always made sense to make the most of what resources you had readily available. In other words, some peoples would naturally be more experienced with fishing, while others would find creative ways to farm on less than fertile grounds.  Even more simple examples would come down to things such as local cuisine.  As people would move, ideas would spread, creating a wider base of knowledge and skills for mankind.

I am a firm believer that traveling and trying new things carriers more benefits than it does downfalls, and can provide many benefits to your life overall.  The following reasons in support of traveling are crafted from a combination of my own personal experiences, as well as the testimonies of others.  I firmly believe that they apply in an overwhelming amount of circumstances.

1. Breaking out of your comfort zone

Let’s face it, going somewhere you’ve never been, with different customs and ways of living, in addition to any logistics difficulties, can be daunting, especially if it is a place with near polar differences from what you’re used to.  You might make a fool of yourself, you might not like the food, you might get lost somewhere, the list goes on.  But when you are pushing through these possibilities, you are breaking out of your own comfort zone.  From my experience, breaking out of your comfort zone, and accepting risk, is a skill in and of itself.  In other words, the more you do it, the more comfortable you become with it.  Who knows, maybe over time making that big business decision or asking out that one girl may become easier, or in the least you might be able to do it in a more clear state of mind

2. Networking and making connections

Many large businesses have their corporate headquarters and various branch locations placed in all corners of the globe.  When I worked as an outdoor sales representative, I was offered a job in real estate in a city I’d never been to from a company I’d never heard of.  After conducting some research, I concluded that it was a pretty good opportunity, even though I passed it up for a better one.  Every single day, you never how who you might meet that could change your professional life forever.

3. Personal connections

Similar to the aforementioned point, but on a non-professional level.  I’ve met people out of the blue on all kinds of random trips and adventures, people that I still hang out with to this day.  I have very many friendships, and a couple past romantic relationships, that occurred as either a direct or indirect result of traveling somewhere new and stepping out of my comfort zone.  After all, how many people live on this planet?  And how many of them live in your hometown?  You get the point.

4. The stories you can tell

Experiences are worth more than physical objects.  Some of the best times of my life occurred in a living room or around a bonfire with some of my closest friends, reminiscing on the times we had.  “Hey bro, remember that time we………?” Personally, those are moments I wouldn’t trade for anything.  When you grow up, you won’t remember the times you stayed home and did nothing.  Time is a nonrenewable resource. Once you use it up, you’ll never get it back.  And the time you spend sitting on the couch watching television, does it really do much to enrich and help fulfill the adventure we call life?

5. The food

Let’s be real.  There are a ton of deep reasons to get out, explore, discover yourself, and try new things.  And there are also the simple ones.  Personally, I try to avoid chain restaurants when I travel, unless it’s a chain that’s localized to a certain geographic area (such as Zaxby’s down south).  This article is not an advertisement, and I receive no money for this, but I will give out some of my favorites:

  • Kilroy’s, Indianapolis, Indiana (one of my favorite pub/grill places I’ve ever been to)
  • Planet Pizza, Virginia Beach, Virginia
  • Buffalo’s Reef, Fort Walton Beach, Florida
  • La Zona Rosa, Montgomery, Alabama

I’ve probably had jerky made from every non-endangered animal species in existence as well, in addition to all other types of things that might be considered taboo or otherwise weird by our traditional culture.  As long as it won’t make you sick or kill you, try everything.

6. The ways of life

There are people that life off of way less than we do, and are very happy.  There are people that live a busy, fast-paced life (I tend to fall into that category quite a bit), and are very happy.  Some people forego cars for other forms of transportation, some people drink moderate amounts of alcohol during the work day.  It’s easy to fall into the general culture or subculture of a particular area, and forget about or disregard other options.  This, in my opinion, is huge.  I’m a firm believer that it is okay to question things, to think outside the box, and to not accept “well that’s just the way we’ve always done it” as the sole justification for the way things are done.  This open-minded way of thinking, if used properly and appropriately, can be used to reap many benefits in the workplace, community, and overall life.

7. The mystery

I like to consider myself an “interesting” person, and I’ve always liked and respected people that followed suit.  It allows for you to keep a sort of mysterious air around you, to allow people to have an intrigued interest in your life.  Even more so, it allows you to be seen as a leader or at least as a motivator and inspiration, for those that want adventure in their life.

8. The bonds that are created

It’s not about how long you know somebody, it’s what you and them go through.  Through traveling, exploring, extreme sports, etc. I’ve developed very strong bonds with people, resulting in some of the best friendships and relationships I’ve ever had.  Adventure and excitement can bring out a lot in people, and do well to bring them together.

9. The skills and knowledge

I never learned the best way to grill a homemade pepperoni calzone over a campfire until I went camping in a small town out west that I’d previously never heard of.  It was a couple days and a thousand miles of trial and error that taught me the best ways to strap down multiple kayaks into the back of a U-Haul motorcycle trailer and tow it behind a four-door sedan.  Honestly, the list goes on and on.  Some skills are minor and rather specific, some are broad and overarching to many areas of life.  This comes down to the whole concept of “there are many people out there that know things that you don’t.”

Also, if it’s safe to do so, try taking a taxi in D.C. sometime.  The drivers there have some very interesting stories, and come from all different parts of the world.  A very eye-opening experience.

10. The fun!

This shouldn’t need much of an explanation.  And it is a subjective word and different for everybody.  Maybe you enjoy four-wheeling in a golf-cart, maybe you enjoy parasailing in Outer Banks.  It doesn’t matter where you live; you can’t do any activity you want in your hometown.  Get out and go do what you want to do!

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Now, there is no “one size fits all” with how to travel, what to do, and how to use it to benefit your life.  Personally, I see somebody who travels a lot as somebody who has passion, drive, an open-mind, a wealth of knowledge, the ability to take risk, the discipline to make their dreams happen, and a will to always keep learning.  These attributes can all be played to your advantage at a job interview or on a resume, or honestly even if you’re trying to impress a woman or be the life of the cocktail party.

It’s okay to step out of your comfort zone. It’s okay to make certain decisions off of impulse.  It’s okay to take risks. The key is knowing when and what, to be able to play your cards so that the final result is of benefit to yourself.  

The final thing I want to touch on, is technology.  We live in the days where everyone’s phone is a portable GPS receiver.  We live in the days of Skype, Facetime, Facebook, mobile internet, and telecommuting.  Gone are the days where you leave friends and family behind, only to talk to them with the occasional telephone call or snail mail correspondence.  More and more jobs can be done partially or even fully while on the move or away from an office.  If you want to take a big step in your life, and relocate or travel, this is the time to do it.  Resources are out there, and with a bit of preparation and research, you can make big things happen.

Now, get out there, live your life, and remember: it’s passion that keeps us alive.

Article and photos by Matt Jackson.  If you wish to use any words or photographs from this article please feel free to contact me.  I intend for these types of articles to be open-ended, subjective, and a potential way to create discussion.  If you have any comments you would like to add, or any parts of this article you would like to argue against, by all means, I encourage thoughtful discussion.  More than likely, I will be writing a follow-up article on some ways to make travel and relocation possible, efficient, and (relatively) inexpensive, that I have learned from my personal experiences.  As I think of new things to add, or notice any revisions that need to be made, a revised version of this article may be posted without notice.  Again, as I mentioned above, if there is anything you would like to add, by all means, feel free to contact me!

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Ohio Kayaking – Fighting Boredom in the Midwest

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[In addition to writing, I am also an amateur videographer and am working on a feature film of the name “Fighting Boredom in the Midwest.” Expecting to debut late August, 2015]

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The Midwest, like many named regions, has no defined political boundaries, and the true definition of “Midwest” can be rather subjective.  I live in Northeast Ohio.  Is that really Midwestern?  Debatable in my opinion, but generally a “yes.”  Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, are they all considered the Midwest? I’d say so without hesitation.  Maybe one could define it by a process of elimination of sorts. Does it count as the East Coast? West Coast? Pacific Northwest? Southeast? Southwest? New England? If not, then it’s probably the Midwest.  Again, however, these are all pretty much subjective definitions as well, and true boundaries are hard to define.

There is a stereotype floating around that the Midwest is flat, barren, sparsely populated, full of nothing but corn and soybeans, and is a boring, low-key place.  However, from somebody who has not only lived in and traveled all over the Midwest, but is also a licensed pilot and has flown over it extensively, I can very easily say this about the aforementioned notions………they are pretty much on point. This place sucks.  Short and simple.

(People like to throw out counter arguments and reference cities such as Columbus and Indianapolis, both of which are absolutely amazing places in my opinion.  If you ask me, however, they are the exception and not the rule. Also, Summit County, Ohio is a beautiful place worth visiting.)

I grew up in Northern Virginia, in the suburbs of Washington D.C. before moving out to Northeast Ohio to go to school.  To me, it made sense to try somewhere new, far enough away from home to be away, but close enough to be able to return a couple times per year in half of a day’s drive.  I still reside in Ohio, until I can transfer to a different office.  However, instead of complaining about where I am, I’d rather make the most of it, with the amazing friends and resources I have here.  Now, let’s get into the adventure seeking, adrenaline-filled highlights of an overlooked area.

Ohio Creeking

Whitewater kayaking gave me a sense of purpose in an otherwise difficult time of my life, in addition to some of the best friends somebody could ask for.  But wait, Ohio is flat and dry right? Wrong. Remember, we are on the gray area boundary of the Midwest and, in my opinion, definitely not in the Great Plains yet.  Ohio is definitely not a good state for whitewater, but it has it’s crown jewels, including, yes, some steep creeks and other fun rivers, including:

  • Cuyahoga River (Upper and Lower Gorge)
  • Tinker’s Creek (Often considered the most fun in Ohio)
  • Sagamore Creek
  • Chippewa Creek
  • Rattlesnake Creek

Cuyahoga River Upper Gorge/Sheraton Section – Class V, 75fpm*

*Per American Whitewater, and my own observations, this section drops 60′ in just over 1/10th of a mile

AW Description

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Second Drop

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First drop

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Entrance to the first drop

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Nearing the lip of the first drop

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Eddie on river left to scout the second drop

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Second drop

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Ian running the river right side of the second drop

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“Staircase” line on river left, skipping off of a shelf then running the left line of the boulder garden at the bottom. The more common line

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The end of the whitewater, in a beautiful gorge. Following the falls there is a nasty boulder garden followed by two very easy holes

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Midair on the first drop

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A hole above the first drop has flipped the occasional boater

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What the whole second drop looks like. Staircase line is on far river left, the boulder garden “The Jumble” present downstream. The far river right line is a sieve that loves to collect wood and can have dire consequences. The Jumble can be run on the left or right side, with the left side being easier and less consequential. These rocks are always changing, and as myself and many others can attest, this is a very terrible place to swim

There are many things that contribute to the awe of the Sheraton Section.  First off, it is located right in the heart of Cuyahoga Falls, alongside the Sheraton Hotel from which it gets its name.  95% of the time, you will have some spectators cheering you on from a balcony.  Secondly, the gorge is beautiful, and even hiking it can be a very fun, somewhat technical, and physically demanding hike.  Third, it is runnable at a wide range of flows, and as long as there isn’t ice (ice in this section gets bad), it is runnable the majority of the year.  Runs at extremely high water have been done successfully, but leave no room for error, and are not recommended.  Fourth, there are bars and restaurants all within walking distance.

2014 Short Video Compilation

Tinker’s Creek – Class IV-V, 120fpm

AW Description

Unlike the aforementioned Sheraton Section, Tinker’s Creek rarely flows (save for spring snowmelt; in 2015 it flowed for a week straight).  Additionally, the “main” section of Tinker’s Creek can be run below recommended levels, resulting in an easier run, sometimes Class III/III+.  Tinker’s Creek flows over Tinker’s Falls, a Class 5.1 20+ foot drop with a rather fine line and a shallow pool that requires a definite bit of water to get flowing, through a bending tunnel, into a series of rock gardens before opening into a few miles of easier waves and holes.

When Tinker’s Creek flows, it’s a big deal.  There is something else about the mystique of Tinker’s that somebody once pointed out to me.  “A lot of the big name pro kayakers have probably never paddled this.”  An extremely fun creek, that is very demanding, but flows so unpredictably and drops faster than anything I have ever seen.  Somebody once jokingly told me “If you want to paddle it at 500cfs, gather your gear and start driving to the put-in when it’s at 900cfs.”

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Tinker’s Falls at below runnable level

I paddled this river at mid-December last year, and portaging the falls might have been one of the sketchiest parts of the trip.  The ground was frozen over with ice, and the guard railing that you need to climb over was frozer over with ice.  Luckily I was only carrying a Wavesport Fuse at the time, not a nice fat creek boat.

All of the aforementioned photos were taken at around ~520 cfs, mid-December 2015.  On the lower side of runnable (per AW, 400 is the general “minimum runnable flow.”) , but still class IV/IV+ to keep you on your tows. Not to mention the delightful mid-winter water temperature.

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Upstream entrance to the tunnel

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The tunnel empties into a slide which empties into an intimidating hole. Good times; definitely gives you quite a bit of speed

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The aforementioned hole is friendly enough to give you full stern squirts without any effort

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If only it was easy to take out, hike up, and run the tunnel multiple times

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Fun river, with some fun slides, slot moves, holes, and avoiding being backendered here and there

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With it’s fair share of surf spots

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The gorge is absolutely stunning

Climbers may enjoy the gorge almost as much as kayakers do.  Trees also like the creek, since they seem to fall into it all the time, creating a little bit of an inconvenience or, if you’re not being observant, danger.

Sagamore Creek– Class IV

AW Description

I have been dying to give this creek a try.  I only know of it being run once, in late 2013, and have talked to a few of the people that ran it. Looks like a blast, comparable to Tinker’s (even has its own tunnel!), but it’s never really run.  I have a few guesses as to why:

  • Since it hasn’t been run much, it hasn’t been very advertised or talked about much
  • It takes a LOT of water to get it flowing. I was told 700cfs and rising on the Tinker’s gauge. Extremely difficult to plan for in advance
  • If Tinker’s is flowing, people generally tend to want to run Tinkers. I opted to try out Rocky River once instead of Tinker’s, and I wished I ran Tinker’s (save for the end of the day when two of us ran a section of Rocky at relatively higher water with some small drops, a slide, a river-wide ferry, and very good food at a local bar.  Rocky River scrapes by as a Class III and isn’t something I’m going to touch on much in here)
  • In line with my first point, many people just haven’t heard about it

I will give this place a good scouting sometime soon, just to see what it’s like and somewhat familiarize myself with the location.  Fortunately, one of my friends and I have talked about running this when we get the opportunity, possibly for its second descent ever, and it should be a great time.  Besides, I cringe when I see an American Whitewater article with few or no pictures of the river, and I take it upon myself to fix it.

Chippewa Creek- Class V+*

*Probably unrunnable these days in my opinion.  Maybe would turn into “questionably runnable” after going out there with some chainsaws to get rid of some strainers.  The falls at the entrance, however, are runnable

AW Description

I’ve scouted this once at low water (Tinker’s wasn’t flowing, Cuyahoga was reading around 1000 I believe).  Holy sieve fest.  I know of a few people who’ve ran it, and know one or two of them personally.  To the best of my knowledge, it’s been close to a decade since it’s been ran.  Additionally, I’ve been told it’s changed since then due to flooding, and somebody I know who has ran it in the past said it very well might not be runnable now, save for the falls at the entrance.

However, this is an absolutely amazing place to hike.  I highly, highly recommend it.

Video of low-water scouting

(Video disclaimer: I had no intention of making a video when I went out there; just happened to have my GoPro with me at the time and brought it.  It’s a little shaky, and since I didn’t plan on making a video, I didn’t bring any sliders or tripods)

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In the aforementioned video, many angles of the creek’s last drop are shown, which even at low water, creates a hell of a sieve that empties into a cave.  In other words, it’s a very fun scout and hike, but don’t fall into that.  The top of the drop is a pool, where water flows down a narrow slow between two rocks.  When I was there, it was very serene, with almost completely still water at the top and a beautiful view on all sides.

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Appears smaller in the photograph than in person. Not a place I’d particularly want to be

Rattlesnake Creek- Class IV 

AW Description

A 20′ waterfall. Takes a LOT of water to get flowing.  Has been run by my friends who live in the area at very low levels, but when you have a 3 hour drive to get there, “very low levels” isn’t really worth it, especially when I have the Sheraton Section nearby.  From what I’ve heard, as far as 20′ waterfalls go, this is notoriously easy and fun, and can be a park and huck if you set ropes.  I’ve been dying to run this thing.

The Outer Circle

Now, what if instead of only focusing on local creeks in the Northeast Ohio area (plus Rattlesnake, which is on the other side of the state), we broadened our horizons slightly, and considered other areas within an hour’s drive? Or a couple hours?  I’m not going to touch much on these.  Everybody’s familiar with the Lower Yough and the Gauley.  Slippery Rock Creek and Stoneycreek Canyon aren’t as well-known nationwide but are still extremely popular spots for those not more than a couple hours away.  As kayakers, we don’t expect to walk out our backdoor and into a park and play or a steep creek.  Driving long distances and setting up tents for a few days is a part of the sport.  I’ve driven from Northeast Ohio down to central West Virginia and back, four hours each way, on a single day by myself while sick to buy a boat and get out on some new whitewater and went to work the next day.  I’ve taken day trips often on 2-3 hour drives each way with a group of people, and I’ve had whitewater trips where I’ve camped out in what was basically a torrential downpour, enough to bring the Lower Yough up significantly over the course of a single night.  That’s the beauty of kayaking; paddling the river is only part of the overall experience.

I yearn for the day I can move permanently to the Southeast, where rivers such as the Tallulah Gorge, Ocoee, Gauley, etc. are much more feasible as far as time and logistics goes.  For those that aren’t familiar with Western PA, or parts of West Virginia, I’ll throw a few more pictures into the mix.  Just for fun.

Kayaking Ohiopyle Falls, September 2014

Falls Fest 2014, Ohiopyle Falls. My Wavesport Fuse never lets me down!

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One of my favorite photographs I’ve taken; the top of Ohiopyle Falls

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Middle Meadow, West Virginia, 1400cfs

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The mill at Slippery Rock, around 3 feet. Beautiful place when there’s snow on the ground

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Someone getting swallowed at The Slip

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The Slip

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Lower Slip 2,800 cfs

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Lower Slip 2,800 cfs. Fun wave trains

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The classic seal launch at The Slip

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Lower Yough: got to the put-in and realized one of my screws was came loose and disappeared. Was advised to jam a stick into the hole, with the reasoning that it would swell up and plug it. To my surprise, it held tight all the way up through river’s end

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Snow just adds to the beauty

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KeelHaulers Canoe Club April, 2015

I highly recommend checking out the Keelhauler Canoe Club.  A great bunch of very talented paddlers who I am proud to be a part of.  Far more whitewater rivers exist in Ohio than just those that I have mentioned.  In addition, there is some outstanding hiking in my area.  Brandywine Falls, Brecksville Reservation (Chippewa), Upper and Lower Gorges in Cuyahoga Falls, just to name a few.  Drive a little further, and you have beautiful areas such as Hocking Hills State Park, Mohican, and Allegheny National Forest, just to name a few.

Sure, this isn’t the Southeast or the Pacific Northwest, and I yearn for the day when I can move permanently to the Southeast.  Nonetheless, wherever you are, there is always something else to do, somewhere else to be explored.  You don’t need to be a whitewater kayaker, ice climber, or BASE jumper to get outside and have an adventure.  Get out, travel, explore, and see what the world has to offer!

Written by Matt Jackson.  If you wish to use any words or photographs from this article, by all means feel free to contact me.  I also wish to bring recognition to organizations such as Team River Runner, American Whitewater, and Friends of the Crooked River.  Whitewater kayaking has an amazing community, and over time many barriers to entry for this sport have been mitigated.  If you are wanting to learn but unsure how to go about doing so, feel free to contact me and I’ll see if I can point you in the right direction.  In addition, be on the lookout for courses offered by the American Canoe Association and the Nantahala Outdoor Center.  Lastly, even though I mentioned you don’t need to be a whitewater kayaker, ice climber, or BASE jumper to have an adventure, extreme sports bring out a feeling that nothing else can!!

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Professional Lessons from Extreme Sports

“It’s the passion that keeps us alive”

There’s the old saying that goes, “find a job you like doing, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”  It is entirely true. However, in reality, we don’t always find such an opportunity, and no matter how much you may enjoy your job, you do everything you can to set aside time for your own recreation and hobbies.  Some of us find ourselves investing heavily into our own interests, with time, money, and even risk.

With the right talent and know-how, some people can successfully turn a hobby or interest into an investment, even to the point of making significant return.  Many of us do this on the side, pursuing it for our own passion more so than any financial return.  As of right now I am a senior in college, an outdoor sales representative, and an up-and-coming aviation professional.  I am also a whitewater kayaker.

I fell in love with the sport about a year ago, and as with anything, its had its ups and downs.  I do instruction, whitewater photography/videography, and have multiple sponsorships.  I have been fortunate enough to be able to travel around the country and co-run a collegiate club with a high level of financial and administrative responsibility.  I’ve also suffered various injuries, had equipment broken or lost, and been in situations that made me question my love of a sport that tries so hard to kill me.  Nonetheless, some of the most important friendships and interpersonal relationships I’ve had have come from this “side passion,” and there are a number of difficult life lessons I’ve learned through sports:

1. Fear doesn’t go away. But you need to push through it

Surprisingly, whitewater is a bit of a spectator sport.  People will line up on riverbanks and observation decks to watch you.  A number of them probably think we’re crazy.  After all, enthusiasts of all kinds love to show up to view and photograph waterfalls, then are awestruck to see people climbing up to them with plastic boats and drysuits.  We give off this impression that we are not afraid.  But in many of our first descents, we are.

If we let fear stop us, we would be robbed of the feeling of pride and accomplishment we gain after.  We would be robbed of every benefit this sport could potentially give us.  I say robbed because not only do we give something up, we let it be taken. Many people seem to let fear get in their way.  The fear of failure.  The fear of rejection.  The fear of loss.  Everybody seems to dream of starting that business, pursuing that promotion, making that big investment, making that big move across the country, but always stops short of doing so, for fear or uncertainty.  Very rarely does reward come without risk.

2. Reward comes from risk. But risk needs to be calculated

Unnecessary risk is a risk where the potential negative outcome outweighs the potential benefit.  Risk itself can be defined as the product of the potential severity of a negative result and the probability of its occurrence.  We all take various risks in our attempts to be successful, with different possible results.  We won’t huck ourselves over waterfalls without checking flow rates, scouting drop zones, and ensuring we have appropriate skill and equipment.  If you want to start that business you have always dreamed of, and you think it can give a very high return, go for it.  But don’t go for it until you have analyzed the market, ensured you won’t under-capitalize it, etc.

3. You absolutely do not know your own limits

I once heard somebody say “whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.”  Yes, to some extents you may need to realize that some things are beyond your limits; see my aforementioned statement on calculated risk.  However, this is not a precise science, and we’ve all done many things that we thought we couldn’t do.  Most of us can agree that it is easier to get an effective workout by working with a trainer, being on a sports team, or through being in the military than by just going to the gym on your own without a plan.  It’s easy to give up when you’re tired, and think that you can’t go any further.  Which is fine, if you decide to lose your ambition and not have any desire to gain anything further.

4. The boat doesn’t make the paddler. The situation doesn’t make the person

It’s easy to try to blame failure or poor performance on external factors, such as lack of resources.  However, think of the opposite.  What would happen if you managed to succeed, despite a poor situation?  What if your manager saw that you could expand a program despite a lack of funding?  I’m a playboater, which in non-kayaking terms, is a kayaker that likes to do tricks in the water.  Maneuverability and stability are a trade-off; you can’t have all of both.  As such, these boats can be squirrely and unstable in the water.  It can be very frustrating, especially at first.  However, you get good, and you get good fast.  Sometimes your own skill and determination can take a less-than-desirable situation and bring out results better than you’ve ever seen.

5. Work ethic, work ethic, work ethic….don’t quit

Some things take practice and repeated attempts.  It’s especially annoying when failed attempts place you in an inconvenient and physically demanding situation.  However, you can take the possibility of negative results as either a motivation and deterrent.  There comes a time when you’re underwater and you think you might not be able to hit your roll.  It’s cold, you can’t breathe, and you’re tired.  You want to just pull out of your boat and swim.  However, what is worse: the temporary pain and difficulty followed by pride and glory, or the inconvenience (not to mention the danger) of swimming through swift-water, possibly losing equipment, then having to re-mount, re-launch, and get back in the mental game? Perfection comes with patience and perseverance.  I guess you could call that the “Rule of P’s.”

6. Stop and THINK

See my aforementioned comparison to being upside-down in dangerous whitewater and wanting to just pull out of your boat. People like to panic, then overreact without thinking.  That results in poor decisions and sloppy execution.  When I was in flight school, somebody told me that when they first learned to fly, they were told to look at their watch and count to three during emergencies.  Panicking can, and will, kill you.  In some situations physically, in other situations it can cause serious detriment or embarrassment.  Being able to keep calm under pressure is what makes somebody a leader, its what causes people to look to you in tough situations.  When I first learned to kayak, sometimes I couldn’t hit my roll, and I would pause, think, then go through the process slow and methodically.  Next thing I knew, I was upright and breathing again.

7. Somebody was always the first 

We like to look for precedents.  If somebody has done something successfully, how did they do it?  If somebody tried and failed, what did they do wrong?  After all, the phrase “tried and true” has its merit.  We study history for a reason, and that is to learn from it.

However, hasn’t somebody always had to have been the first one?  And if they did it successfully, what results did they receive?  If they were an entrepreneur, they are probably rather rich right now.  If they were a kayaker, they might have a rapid named after them, and maybe some media recognition.  Don’t be afraid to try something new.  As a civilization we grow by pushing our boundaries and discovering new things.  Not to mention, trying something new that nobody has successfully done before can teach you a lot about both the subject and yourself.  It may require analytical skills, research abilities, constant determination, etc.  Just because nobody has done something, doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Everybody has something they love and are passionate about, and maybe tomorrow you’ll find something new.  Regardless, whether we take something as a hobby, side business, or overall lifestyle, it is important to be proud of what we do, and see what can learn from it.  By learning and teaching, you may very well benefit yourself and society as a whole.

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