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3 Lessons Learned from Falling into a Lake During a Retreat
Yes, this really happened
On the last day of the Level Up Retreat I was co-leading with Angela in September, I fell into the lake that was adjacent to the lodge we were staying in.
Here's what I learned from the experience1:
Lesson 1. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes
Right before I fell in, I took everything out of my pants pockets. There was a steep drop-off from the shore to the lake and this was clearly a two-person task. I took everything out of my pockets precisely because I knew there was a good chance I'd end up in the water.
The canoe got tippy as I was about to step off the shore, so I stumbled into the water with my pants and hiking shoes on. I saved myself from falling all the way in by pulling on the canoe’s gunwales and the canoe subsequently took on a lot of water. I wasn't shocked or frustrated that it happened - I already knew how likely it was.
Instead, I was amused.
Even more so because I drew Coyote that morning from the medicine card deck. Coyote medicine is about the folly and pain that we create for ourselves. I didn't know which way Coyote would be coming for me until I was in the lake.
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Lesson 2. It's better to look like a fool once than be a fool twice
A younger version of Charlie would've pulled the canoe back out, dumped it out, and tried again just so that he could do what he set out to do. After all, I was already in the water, so it's not like I had to worry about that outcome. (I will not be denied!)
This version of Charlie pulled the canoe out of the water, dumped it out, and thought about whether he really needed to be on the water at that point or whether he was just trying to "master the situation." And not look like a fool in front of the other guests who likely saw me fall in or one of our participants who was across the lake, but probably saw me fall in.
The fundamentals of the situation hadn't changed. It was still a two-person maneuver. I could've done the "jump and slide-in” maneuver, but it's been 25 years since I've done that and I wouldn't recover from the near-misses of that maneuver as quickly as I used to.
So, odds are, if I tried again, I'd end up back in the water with a twisted shoulder or sprained wrist, to boot.
It reminds me of one of my favorite jokes from the movie “Be Cool”:
In case you don’t want to watch the video, here’s the joke:
"You know what you tell a man with two black eyes?"
"Nothing. He's already been told twice."
I didn't need Coyote to give me that second black eye.
Lesson 3. Good things come for those who can laugh at themselves
After deciding that all the effort for 10 minutes in a canoe wasn't worth it, I sat down and had a belly laugh with and at myself as I was drying out in the sun.
Because I was beaming and chuckling, a participant (who didn't see me fall in) came up and started talking to me. We had a precious 10-minute conversation that we otherwise would not have had that was a far better peak experience than my sitting on a lake would've been.
Instead of "mastering the situation," I got to be in the dance with a participant.
All because I was laughing at myself.
Coyote medicine is tricky that way. It converts seriousness, expectation, and obsessions into grace and serendipity.
If you stop long enough to see that you're likely to end up in the lake again.
It’s Not About The Lake or Difficult Projects
I was laughing and beaming so hard at myself because falling into the lake was such a good metaphor for where I’d been over the last couple of years.
The experience came on the backside of a book launch that happened while I had COVID. Prior to the book launch, I had come out of the grueling process of finishing a book and launching an app at the same time, which I knew would be hard and introduce a lot of failure surface area.
So many of the things I’ve tried since 2021 felt akin to pulling stuff out of my pockets to get into the canoe, ending up in a lake, pulling the canoe back out, and trying again.
Doing any one of the things would’ve been difficult on their own. Trying to do all of them was like trying the “jump and slide in” maneuver while holding a crisco watermelon, a baby, and a sharp knife at the same time. Some red fluid is going to end up in the canoe and you hope it’s from the watermelon.
It’d be easy to misinterpret the message as “stop trying to do hard things, Charlie.”
That wasn’t the message I took from it, though.
I wouldn’t have ended up in the lake that day had I prepared better. I could’ve asked for help or snagged Angela to go out with me. I could’ve changed into some swim trunks and gone to the dock.
But, no. I was impulsive and underprepared, tried to use brute force, and discounted the difficulty. It’s not that I didn’t know what to do - I was just bullheaded.
Splish splash, y’all. Splish splash.
Enough with falling in lakes, bruises, and black eyes because of my own myopia and folly. There’s plenty of sunshine to enjoy, work worth doing well and preparing for, and dancing with my peeps right where I am.
While the above is about me, you know I’m sharing it because it might be about you, too.
I originally wrote this as satire for the “I went to the hospital last week. Here are three lessons I learned” meme that floated around LinkedIn at the time. Even that backfired on me. 🤷🏽♂️
Yes, another canoe story. Chalk it up to my past and ancestry.