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Paddling Our Own Canoe

“As one goes through life, one learns that if you don’t paddle your own canoe, you don’t move.” — Katharine Hepburn

“We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers – but never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted to change you’re the one who has got to change.” — Katharine Hepburn

This is a powerful combination of punches landed by Hepburn, isn’t it? You can almost hear her voice speak as she points out what we all ought to hear now and then. Life is what we make of it, and the buck stops here. Simple, yet so many stew in the miserable broth of low agency salted in blaming others. Do we want to have a better life? Put down the blame salt. Begin by looking in the mirror.

I’m looking out the window at freshly fallen snow. Just enough to coat everything, not enough to be particularly consumed with clearing it off the driveway. But I’ll likely clear it anyway. To be effective in our lives, we must face the world squarely as it presents itself to us and decide what to do, given the circumstances. Identity plays a part in this moment. When you identify yourself as someone who gets things done, you get the snow off the driveway. When you identify yourself as someone who delegates, you push the problem to others. Which is correct? It depends on the circumstances, of course, but in general subscribing to the paddling your own canoe philosophy does wonders for our quality of life.

I know, I know: Time is money, and it’s not worth our precious time to do menial tasks that are better delegated to others. Maybe, if you’ve got the money and inclination, hiring a personal assistant, or a landscaper, a chef, or a maid is your answer so you aren’t squandering time on the trivial tasks. Maybe this helps you focus on the important task. But the underlying question must always be, to what end? What are we living for? Is chopping our own wood intrinsically valuable? Isn’t it? How about pushing a light coating of snow off the driveway? Just what is the stuff of life anyway?

The answer is that the stuff of life is what we make it out to be. We derive meaning and purpose out of whatever the heck we choose to derive it from. For me, clearing a bit of snow off the driveway is a cheap form of meditation, a moderate form of exercise, and a chance to assess where I am in my life this crisp morning. I take stock of where I’ve done well, and where I’ve strayed off course in my objectives. This is where the shovel hits the road, if you will, and where I decide just what I’m going to be today so that I might get straight away to being it.

Change begins with introspection in space. We must give ourselves the room to find the answers to our questions. And in the answer lies the action: Goals are broken down into projects, which in turn are broken down into tasks. Celebrate the tasks for the direction they carry you. This, friends, is paddling our own canoe.

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