Risk, Rewards, and Rafting

Mark Cieri

Whether involving personal goals, your family, career pursuits, ambitious adventures or moment by moment decisions, the perception of risk is prevalent in our daily lives. How we process and engage risk, shapes various aspects of our life.

 

I was chatting with a good friend this week about mutual endeavors in both family and business when he shared a personal image that has helped him to find inspiration and strength in the face of significant risk. This year he experienced numerous forms of adversity that he equated with his experiences in white water rafting. Some of his days, weeks, or months in 2018 were Class II easy flowing river trips with a few objects of concern but generally manageable. However, there were periods when he experienced Class VI rapids both personally and professionally. His circumstances were nothing short of extreme difficulty, unpredictability, and dangers akin to facing death in a treacherous whitewater rafting stretch.

 

How did he and can we engage risk and tackle intense challenges in a manner that gives us our best chance of success and maybe even find enjoyment? I reflected further on white water rafting as a framework and summarize below some key principles that I believe apply.

 

1)  Proper leadership is vital

 

It is critical you or your rafting outfitter are highly qualified to foster the best experience while mitigating risk. While we should all be life learners, an unqualified leader learning on the job is too risky for the lives of those on the raft. If you must lead, find a mentor to join or walk through the challenge alongside you. Some of us will also look to a personal compass, a higher power - Our Creator.

 

2)  Don't do it alone

 

Recognize teamwork is critical. A well-aligned team is not only important for safety and emotional support but especially important in load sharing during treacherous challenges. A team makes sharing the ups and downs of the winding river more satisfying.

 

3)  Wear and understand how to use your protective gear

 

Don't just jump into the river unequipped and start paddling. Study, learn and apply wisdom from the experts on what gear to wear, how to use the gear, and the various safety mechanisms. Heed warnings. How are you equipping yourself to mitigate (or eliminate) risks and face upcoming challenges in your respective pursuit?

 

4)  Hold your paddle properly

 

Regardless of the challenges you face, there are specific tools, like the paddle, you must use to steer and advance. Lean heavily on the tools which have worked for you in the past, while being open to learning new techniques and tools. 

 

5)  Stay in the raft

 

The safest place in extreme rapids is staying in the raft. What represents “the raft” you must remain within even when doing so is far from easy and certainly not comfortable? How we define "the raft" we are riding during a risky trial clarifies what we must cling to versus an obstacle in our path we must maneuver around.

 

A side point is worth mentioning here. We must also be careful with our framework for risk assessment. An improper assessment can lead us to make choices that amount to wishful thinking leading to a reckless pursuit or comfortably defaulting to the path of least resistance. In the first, you may justify a course of action as jumping into an exciting new boat, while the latter focuses on remaining in the safety of an aging river craft. In both cases, you may be swimming outside your raft and actually grasping for sharp rocky obstacles and introducing higher risk to yourself and those around you. One must carefully evaluate their circumstances and seek wise counsel as necessary to ensure a healthy overall view and avoid myopia. 

 

How we define "the raft" we are riding during a risky trial clarifies what we must cling to versus an obstacle in our path we must maneuver around.

 

6)  Make sure you can swim and know the proper techniques

 

Before pushing off the dock, make sure you can swim should you capsize or get jettisoned out of the raft while in rapids. While challenges can creep up on us and often we feel ill-equipped, this is not always the case. Plan, prepare and train for what you know is coming or could happen. Get help from your network, hire a coach or find a training partner to ensure you hone necessary skills, whatever they may be. 

 

7) Listen to your guide & know his commands

 

Obeying the leader and following the established protocol is important, especially when it seems only chaos exists. Keeping steady, disciplined, and well-placed trust is paramount when our eyes and ears tell us differently.

 

8) Don't panic

 

While it is easy to say not to panic, keeping calm even when adrenaline kicks in helps us to respond intentionally versus reacting emotionally to our circumstances. Take a moment and consider a recent tenuous circumstance you faced as part of a group. Who was the most helpful and who was most detrimental?

 

While the above summary is neither a perfect recipe nor comprehensive, I believe it captures some useful insights that may help you perceive risk more intentionally and engage significant challenge with greater confidence, strength, inspiration and perhaps even an expectation of personal growth.

 

I would be interested in hearing your insights on this topic and how you as well engage life’s risk and challenges.