September 29, 2008

Rewriting the Script and Changing the Anchor

Since arriving back in San Francisco I've been out on the Bay for numerous water adventures. From sailing to kayaking the experiences have been a reclamation of sorts. Prior to moving away from San Francisco in 2005 I went sailing with friends and it was the beginning of a long journey into self-doubt. When given "control" of the boat I lost my cool and freaked out. This became a negative anchor for me as I moved on to Houston and then London. How could I act that way? How could I be so weak? What did my friends think of me? All those damaging scripts being played and re-played in my head.

In the past three months I've been back out on the Bay and this time I'm craving the challenges to push my physical limits. Sailing with friends on the same boat as 2005, I took the helm and guided us in and out of the Berkeley Marina. It was like writing a new script.

Yesterday I went for a full day sea kayaking class with California Canoe and Kayak in the Oakland Estuary. I wore the wetsuit purchased at a yard sale in June on my final day in DC. It was a tight fit and left no room for figure mystery. That was brave in itself. But the most exciting challenge was stepping past my stretch zone, into the edge of my panic, to deliberately capsize in the kayak while skirted into its cockpit. In other words, I was attached to the boat, upside down in salty water.

This was actually something I had done successfully as a teenager away for the summer at adventure camp in Colorado. But as I've gotten older the experience has become more of a personal urban legend as my fears of losing control took over. Yesterday was a big step to see if I could regain that strength and confidence. I did it! And once I had done it I insisted on capsizing and practicing again and again until I was black and blue, water logged and sunburned.

During our lunch break, Paula and Tim, the instructor and other student in the course, and I had a philosophical discussion about kayaking as a metaphor for change management. Paula shared with us that kayaking is really just placing the paddle in the water and moving the boat past it to a new place. The paddle stays still and the boat moves. This is difficult to visualize unless there are unmoving objects around the paddle, such as seaweed or floating wood. Only with those obstacles nearby can you see that the paddle is anchored and the boat gliding. We shared how this was true when promoting personal or organizational evolution. Lead with a gentle touch, ever so slightly correcting the path to move past the obstacles. Strength and bravado are not necessary.

This is the powerful metaphor I use in my personal inspiration of the Sleek Yellow Kayak. Paula gave me a choice of kayaks for our course and I chose a yellow one. The kayak became an extension of myself as we moved along the water playfully. It also became my lifeline as I clung to its side while capsized in the Bay. What a tremendously positive anchor around which I write my new script.