I sat in a coffee shop, discussing philosophy over eggs and toast with my sixth grade english teacher. I’ve found that many people have a special relationship with one of their teachers from childhood, and this lovely bearded elementary educator-turned-supersubstitute-turned-thespian was mine.
We had each read “Iron John”, by Robert Bly, a 250pg analysis of the Grimm’s Fairy Tale of the same name that, among other things, taught me how shallowly I had always read fairy tales, and our conversation had meandered toward our unique relationship, as it sometimes did.
We had happened to see Finding Forrester together as I was entering the hardest years of my life (not that I knew it then), and the movie had become a touchstone of our conversations when they turned inward. As a metaphor it was perhaps a bit heavy handed, me the basketball player and he my writing teacher, but it fit us.
But that day, perhaps channeling Bly, he offered a different analogy for our relationship. He said he had always lived his life as a piece of driftwood, floating down the river and following the currents wherever they took him. But I, it seemed to him, charted a course down that same river in a canoe, navigating around any rocks or logs and furiously paddling as if my life depended on it.
At the time, I remember thinking: Damn right I’m paddling. I prided myself on doing more than other people, faster than other people. I was willing to do the things that others weren’t to get the things that others wouldn’t. I hustled as a rule, and that had brought me everything.
That was about a year ago, and now not so sure I should have taken it as a compliment.
I’ve pushed myself much further down the river than my sixth grade teacher. But the cost of all that pushing was that I never really looked around. I never bothered to see the current, the fish, or the shores. For a long time I accepted that as simply the table stakes of going somewhere in life. To go farther, you had to focus on where you were going, to the detriment of where you were.
But now, I wonder if it’s just more river as far as you go.
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