Life as a human being is and can be difficult for anyone. Emotions and our desire for things greater than a comfortable survival with enough food, water, and warmth to get by make living up to our expectations mentally and physically difficult. Our quest for love by others, acceptance through our acts and successes to feel worthy of love by others put so much of this in the hands of other that life can appear difficult and confusing. Throw in the examples of how life should/ or could be lived offered everyday with fake people on TV, fictional or inflated stories in books, and other external standards and it gets even harder to feel that you are doing it right and what you have accomplished is good enough. Hope is a motivator for many, hope of a better future, hope of success, hope of more love, more acceptance, after the successes come, etc. etc.. Hope is a wonderful thing instilled in us.
I have some ideas to share here, from my experiences in doing things against the norm, against the examples given, against the advice of family, friends, and in the face of those who’s job is to control me as an employee. My reason for writing this, is that I was reflecting on the moments in my life that it turned for the better (in my own eyes), and what those moments and decisions had in common. Also the moments that I regret, and why, and what they had in common.
To put you in my world for a moment. I came from very modest beginnings. Single wide trailer, to small house, to slightly larger house, single car, two working parents, little disposable income. My family life was always wonderful- loving mother and father; great sister, however my mother died when I was 18. I dropped out of college shortly after my mother died, to kayak full time. At that moment, I was cut off from any support by family. They were not going to throw resources into me while I “played” instead of taking my responsibilities seriously. At that time in my life I took it as a challenge- “I will show them- they can’t make me go back to school, I am never going back now.” It had the opposite effect they were going for at the time. The next 15 years I lived in poverty. Less than $10,000/year income- family of 4. I did become quite the kayaker, however. I also met somebody who loved me for who I was, and didn’t ask me to do anything different, Kristine. Poor, full time kayaker, yet she not only dated me, she married me. This young woman didn’t do it for the money. She signed up for a life of poverty; anything different would be a surprise to anyone who cared about her. That was my first real indicator that what you see on TV and what people generally say about life is all wrong. Had I been more “successful” and been doing the “right things” all of those girls I was meeting who asked me “What will you do when you stop kayaking?” and then got that look in their eyes when I said, “Stop? I am never going to stop”; the look being, “OK, check that guy off my list of potential suitors; nice guy, but not for me.” I would have wasted my time with them, the ones that had hope that perhaps I would be more than a kayaker, and, if so, I’ll give him a try. No such girl would have made it 5 years with me, like Kristine did. She made it because she didn’t expect me to change, or to change my priorities. She supported the idea that to be a good partner to me would be to make sure I get to kayak everyday like I wanted. Why? Because that is what I wanted to do and that is how she could assure my happiness. I was VERY lucky to learn that lesson from a 17 year old, turned wife at 18, and now my wife of 24 years. The moment she said to me these words, after we had been dating for a few months, “Eric, don’t worry about making money, you are only happy when you are kayaking, do that. Why don’t you get a job waiting tables at a pizza place or something at night, and kayak all day?” Bingo. I had the first indicator that what I wanted to do, could be successful for me.
The Challenge- The success- The challenges we all face in life fall into categories such as: financial, a healthy relationship with a significant other, family, friends; being a part of something important, finding time to do something that you enjoy that shows to yourself that you have more than just making a living, staying healthy. There are many challenges that aren’t listed, but most are somehow related to these. I am going to suggest that we are trained to think about these challenges backwards and that the way society looks at them makes it almost impossible to choose wisely in your everyday choices. Choosing poorly, is something we all do from time to time, but to do it as a habit lowers your chance, if not eliminates it of you being the person you want to be everyday. I believe that every choice you make is like a spiderweb strand being added to your life, either strengthening your life as you build it, or shackling it further and making it harder to free yourself. In the end, it is those daily choices you can thank or blame for who you are and what you do.
Here are my suggestions on daily decision making for all areas of your life.
First off- You can’t make good decisions without prioritizing things in your life. Nobody can do this for you. Including what other’s think about your priorities will not allow you to prioritize what is important to YOU. It is what it is. If you are not accurate you will not be able to make good decisions. My priorities are: Kristine, my kids, my kayaking, my business in that order. I have many things that are important to me that fall under those, but I don’t list them because I can’t manage more than that. Friends, don’t I have friends? Yes, I do, but if they are not part of my family, or kayaking, or business, they fall into the “I hope I see you again one day, good luck” category. That sounds terrible, but to prioritize friends that I don’t spend time with by default would mean I am taking away from Kristine, Kids, Kayaking, or Business. THAT is the secret to decision making…
Once you set your priorities- you can easily begin improving your decision making. Your goal should be to take care of priority 1 first, then 2, then 3, then 4. Your ultimate goal should be to find mutually beneficial situations that you can put energy into one thing and take care of multiple priorities at once. After 20 years I have demonstrated what this looks like with my family. I spend 24/7 with my wife, my kids, while kayaking everyday and doing business in kayaking, while kayaking with my wife and kids all intertwined in this circle of mutually beneficial situations. It wasn’t always that way. My “perfect life” that I have was created one decision at a time. Of course my life is far from perfect. I am far from perfect and make mistakes every day. I say and do the wrong things with my wife, my kids, and make poor decisions in my paddling, and make tons of mistakes with the people in my business and in my actions in the business. However, very few of my mistakes are due to not knowing what the decision should be, and most of my mistakes are tactical, not strategy or logistical mistakes. I say the wrong thing, forget to do something, or simply have bad information. Luckily for me, I have a long history of consistency. Most people who know me know the decisions I am going to make before I make them given ANY situation thrown at me. Literally, Emily, Kristine, or Dane could make 90% of all of my decisions for me and the outcome would be the same because that is what I would do. Why? Because I decide based on my priority list and most decisions are either/or and they are the easiest.
My job at Confluence before JK was a good example how making decisions lead to JK, and it wasn’t hard, even though from the outside I was self destructing. I had been the leader of the Wavesport brand tripling sales in my three years as Brand Manager or “Director”. My boss told me that “he had 392 employees, and only one that didn’t come to work.” I was living in an RV full time with Kristine, Dane, and Emily, traveling, kayaking, competing, etc.. He demanded that I start spending time at the factory, verses traveling. I refused of course, saying that I was performing well for him and that to stop traveling and competing, etc.. would be to stop performing for him as well. My kayaking was part of the success of the brand as well as how I know so much about the product I am designing with David, etc.. He threatened to fire me on the spot if I wasn’t in the office on Monday. I drove the RV, his RV, to Washington, DC for training and being at Great Falls. Monday I called to see if I still had a job or not, and I did, but only because he didn’t have a better option yet. Fast forward a few months and my title of Director was gone, and somebody else was now Brand Manager. Fast forward a few more months and somebody else was hired to design boats that was at the factory and David Knight and I were no longer the design team. It was clear that my priorities and their priorities or at least how they wanted to run the business was not jiving. I could change my ways and go against my priorities and keep my job, or I could keep my priorities and lose my job. I kept my priorities and lost all responsibilities other than my athlete status. I no longer was able to influence design, or the brand like I wanted to. The job was no longer fulfilling. I quit. For six months I was unemployed (I didn’t collect unemployment, but lived on money I had saved). I started JK out of this mess. It was super stressful watching something I loved being managed by people who were tearing it down due to not allowing a unique situation that was working, continue on. However, my priorities were clear to me, to my family, to my paddling friends, and to those who worked with me. They knew, because I told them, what I would do, and what I would not do from the start. It wasn’t a surprise. I stayed the course, making every decision based on my priorities, and it lead to the end of my career at Wavesport. I replaced Wavesport with JK and set that business up so that this wouldn’t happen again. Every day at JK it is no different than at Wavesport in that there are lots of situations where it would be easier if I were at the factory, on the outside. However, there would be no JK if I made decisions that way. This is the “hardest” part of making decisions based on your priorities. The decision is easy to come to, but it is clear that making the decision will cause change in areas where you have mutually exclusive situations. You will create the change you need to make in order to truly being doing and taking care of what is important to you. That decision is the hardest to make. “Do I just keep doing what I am doing, going with the flow, doing what other’s approve of, knowing that I am sacrificing the things most important to me, or do I begin making decisions that take care of what is most important to me, knowing that many people will not be impressed and that big changes may come, like it or not, before I truly find a way to take care of all of the priorities at the same time. ” Whew… The good news is that you can do it in small doses to try it out in the beginning. Is it important to you to exercise outside while it is still light out, but your job keeps you inside until dark in the winter? Work out a deal where you get off earlier so you can exercise outside, by coming in earlier, or working saturdays, etc.. Or by cutting your pay and working less hours. “What? I don’t want to work Saturdays or cut my pay, and I don’t like waking up early” you say? Get your priorities straight then- which is more important to you? Decide, then act. If exercising is actually more important than your pay or your sleeping in, you’ll decide to exercise. If it was a whim, you’ll stick with your normal hours and pay. Make sense?
I look forward to my next 20 years. I have a good starting point- from the past 30 years of prioritizing. My priorities have changed over time, but not by much. Kristine became my top priority in 1997 and my kids #2 over kayaking. I didn’t realize I hadn’t done that properly until that time. My business/livelihood became #4 in 1999. It was only a necessary evil for the most part until then. Then it became something I wanted to do and do right.
My kids, and son-in-law, Nick, are my best friends, my wife IS my best friend. My kayaking is special to me and improving constantly. My business and those involved are also special friends and special people that I am lucky to be associated with. It is challenging me and making me I learn things I couldn’t learn otherwise from some of the most caring, smartest, and energetic people I know; and I hope they appreciate what I am bringing to the table as well. It is important to choose who you want to impress. I have a list of people that I want to impress, but only because I can try to do that without sacrificing what is most important to me. I am not impressed by people who “Sacrifice” their lives to do what others expect of them. I feel bad for them and hope they learn a better way. I am impressed by people who find a way to take care of those things most important to them. On the outside, it looks like sacrifice to others, but when do everything you can, using all of your energy and enthusiasm and resources to take care of what is important to you, you never feel like you are sacrificing, you are doing exactly what you want to do, and feel lucky to be able to do that. That is the best place to be as a person. That is rewarding.
“The secret to happiness is fidelity to a worthy purpose.” Helen Keller
“The secret to success is constancy to a worthy purpose.” Gothe
Finding your worthy purpose is truly your life’s mission. I found mine, kayaking. Could it change, eventually? Sure, but it has been my worthy purpose since 1982 when I committed to it full time, mentally. It took me another 15 years to recognize that kayaking could be considered worthy and not just “playing and being irresponsible” as so many people tried hard to convince me.
Well, it is time to start packing for Africa… Putting my Karma away for now, getting my All-Star out. Kids are already packed. Lucky me! Yes, I do consider myself very lucky. I also know that me going paddling with Emily, Nick and Dane in Africa, each one of them so talented and enthusiastic, is not luck. It was a commitment to spending time with them, after Kristine, while committed to paddling myself everyday at the highest level, that gave them the daily exposure and opportunities. They can do anything they want, but choose kayaking. That is another discussion…
Time for breakfast with Kristine!