Being Upside Down is Not Failure

June 18, 2012

upside downWater sport enthusiasts do not view capsizing as a neutral event. Indeed, they work hard to avoid capsizing. To capsize is to fail. Whitewater kayakers also work hard to avoid what others call capsizing, what they call ‘flipping’. They do not, however, equate flipping with failure. Spend much time on a challenging whitewater river and you will, no matter your skill, end up underwater with up as down, down as up, and your oxygen in rapidly diminishing supply as the river powers on, sweeping you along with it. Yet, being upside down does not constitute failure for a kayaker. Failure is not rolling back up. Hence, kayakers, work long and hard on developing ‘rolls’, well-practiced routines for righting themselves when they find themselves upside down. They do so because exiting the kayak, struggling to shore, and gathering one’s far scattered gear imposes an unnecessary toll from (and risk to) one’s self and from one’s fellow travelers. We live during especially turbulent times. We travel through especially turbulent environments, what Peter Vaill termed ‘permanent white water’. We will flip. We need not, however, capsize. We need to adopt a kayaker’s mindset: traveling in heavy water means spending time upside down. Get used to it, minimize the risks, and develop strategies to recover quickly. Remember, being upside down is as much about the water as it is about you. What comes next is much more about you. Anticipate how you might flip. Work on your rolls, over and over. Flip quickly, recover gracefully, treat your career as a series of experiments, minimize the risk of flipping, master the emotions of flipping, practice flipping, prepare to learn from your mistakes, make your mistakes on the move, take responsibility for your own security, learn self-rescue, develop ‘brand you’, build a portfolio of projects, diversify your skill set, create strong networks, and take care of your health. (Chapters 3 and 5 of Your Job Survival Guide focus here.)

Finally, play. Play stems from and generates optimism and a sense that the world, even the world at work today, can prove fun. Play lies at the heart of discovery and innovation, personally and professionally. Play requires a relaxed and focused mind. Play also requires faith that a good roll will overcome a flip and an acceptance that flips amount to the price of traveling such a river. The flip comes thanks most often to the craziness of the river, craziness that you need not make your own. Fear hunkers down and waits trembling in the dark for the roaring water to pass. Play helps to find a better roll, and a better way down the river. The river keeps roiling, pushing and rushing. It holds the possibility of many more flips and rolls and many more opportunities. Just keep rolling. (For more on play, see Chapter 4 in Your Job Survival Guide.)