Locker Room Speeches

Do you ever have a locker room speech with yourself above a rapid? In an eddy, before you take off downstream? This is mine:

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photo credit: joel mccune

Not exactly a locker room speech, but there’s something about Kevin McCallister smacking his hands to his cheeks and the audible intake of air that makes me smile when my hands are clammy and my breathing is hasty. “This is it! Don’t get scared now,” and maybe I chuckle, but one way or another, I always head downstream.

I’ve got this hang up about being perfect. It’s not so much of a hang up as it is a part of my personality, which, incidentally, makes it that much more difficult to change. Maybe it is not always such a bad thing: it keeps me from recklessness, it pushes me to be better. But man, it sure does send me for a tailspin on the river sometimes.

There are a few problems with perfection being the ultimate goal. First: everything is cumulative. The tiniest slip ups, from a roll to a janky line to missing an eddy you wanted to catch for fun… everything compounds for the perfectionist. Allow me to be clear: there is a difference between striving to be better and striving to be perfect. We are humans in a dynamic, ever changing environment over which we know no dominion. We cannot be perfect. We will never be perfect. We can be smooth, we can be proactive, we can be resilient, but we will never be perfect. We should recognize this now… but old habits die hard.

Here’s another problem with, as Chris would call it, “the folly of reaching for perfect:” what does that even mean? Perfection is subjective. Paddling is not pitching a no hitter or scoring 10’s on a routine. There is no constant except for the river, which is only ever constantly changing. Not only that, but our environment has the potential to end us through maim and injury, and even death. We proceed downstream with this burden that missed moves, made moves, and our perceptions of each mean nothing, ultimately, to the river. Forget about success or failure; our desire to be perfect does not fit into the picture of the untameable wild. We aim to soak it all up, take it all in, and see another day of precious, raging water.

It’s easy for me to write this here and now, from the comfort of my cozy house with thousands of super sweet kayaking movies set to epic music to remind me just how awesome kayaking can be. I easily forget the odds at which I pit myself against myself when I’m on the river because, well, kayaking is just so damn cool in slow motion to the tune of dubstep.

“I want to be better,” I’ve said out loud on many occasions, only to be stopped short by a follow up question of “What does it mean to be better?” Listen, we can talk about prowess and eddy catching and hard moves all day long- I know you want to, and it’s not irrelevant… it’s just that your environment is not static, not calculable, not monitored, trained, measured, or docile. It exists without you and me.

I could give myself a locker room speech about how it only matters how hard I try and it only matters that I keep trying, but we all know that when we wager our welfare and the stakes are high, trying hard enough isn’t always enough. We are misled to believe it. Instead, I breathe deep. I clear my head, fill my heart, and recognize my place on the water as a passenger. I relish in cool water below and icy air above. I promise to come back, if I may. I enjoy the clarity of understanding the difference between fear and anxiety, blunder and peril. I hope to never know the latter, and thank the mighty force that lets me pass. I remind myself to be excellent, not perfect, and I tell myself, “This is it:” a moment, a gift… not a test, not pass or fail… only safe passage. And, as a friend would say, “Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer…” for good measure.

banner photo credit: larry ausley