Get Back in the Canoe

I’m tired. My guess is, you are too. Leading during change can be both exhilarating and exhausting. We know on the other side of the new year, 2021 will require more adaptation, clarity, and decision-making.

What do we do when we’re tired, but the work is unfinished?

Perhaps Lewis and Clark can help.

The year was 1802. The United States was barely old enough to rent a car, and President Jefferson was already expanding west, inviting his former secretary (Lewis) and an army captain (Clark) to co-lead the exploration of newly purchased Louisiana.

Jefferson was confident, and often wrong. He told them America’s tallest mountains were the Appalachians (whoops). He believed they would find rhino’s, salt fields, and active volcanoes. He hoped they would find a river they could ride all the way to the Pacific. He put his hope (and expectation) in his fatherless 20-something mentee.

After one year, six months, and one day of arduous travel, Lewis and Clark arrived at the Oregon coast. They had hiked and paddled 4000 miles. From a hilltop you first see the Pacific. The forest is dense until you cross a stream, and begin to hear the waves. Over a little hill the tide is coming and going as if it has been waiting its whole life to see you. I wonder how sand felt on their feet after 18 months in the Rockies. I wonder what they said to each other. We can all guess how they felt.

How will you respond when you’ve finally made it? What will you feel when COVID is finally over?

What do these infamous explorers do? They scribble their initials in a tree, and got back in the canoe. Here is Clark’s journal entry from that day,

“I proceeded on the sandy coast and marked my name on the Small (sic) pine, the Day of teh mont (sic) & year &c. and returned…I proceeded to the bay distance about 2 miles, thence… crossed this little river in the Canoe we left at its mouth…”

If they threw confetti, hugged, high-fived each other, Clark doesn’t tell us. They get back to work. Why? Though they made it to the coast, the work was far from finished.

They had used 90% of their supplies. They were only halfway home.

For us, miles of unknown still lie ahead. The adaptation in 2021 may overtake the pivoting of 2020. We will wake up on New Years to a world that needs new problems solved, with new ways of doing business.

Many of us feel about 90% depleted. 

I believe there’s another reason Clark gets back in the boat that day. The leaders weren’t heartless workhorses. Clark wasn’t listless or depressed. 

He gets back in the boat that day because he is an explorer.

For these men, the curiosity of what’s around the next corner always beckoned. The ethos of their journey is better described as curiosity than conquering. They failed to meet Jefferson’s expectation. Yet, their contributions to science, relationships, maps, and spirit of adventure live on. Road signs from Missouri to Oregon are filled with remembrances, not to what they achieved, but what they explored.

There are miles ahead. There are some challenges and expectations we will meet, and some we won’t. The unknown beckons.

It’s time to get back in the canoe.

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