Last weekend I went kayaking with friends down the Brandywine River, a beautiful river spanning 20 miles from Pennsylvania down through Delaware.
The river itself is not a very challenging body of water; there are a few spots with rocks and rapids, and at least one dam that requires you carry your kayak around it along the bank, but for the most part, it's serene and relaxing with a slow current. A great way to spend the day outdoors.
We dropped in at ChesLen Preserve, Pennsylvania -- five of us, and a dog named Sunshine -- and anticipated a six-hour paddle downstream to the landing point at Thompson's Bridge in Delaware.
Embedded deep within the Brandywine Valley, the river meanders south through secluded areas including some parks and wildlife preserves. With the exception of some private houses scattered along the river and some public park space, there aren't many options for an early departure. In other words, once you drop in, you're waterbound until you reach the landing point.
The first leg of the trip was seamless and carefree. We floated, paddled, navigated around felled trees, rocks, and saw wildlife. Soothing jazz floated up from our portable speaker and permeated with the sing song of birds nestled within the trees. Save for one unexpected capsize (I won't name names) and getting stuck on the shallow parts of the river a few times (oh, that was definitely me), the trip was going smoothly.
About three hours in, my intuition started to kick in. I'd kayaked down the Brandywine once before, and had dropped in at Lenape Park which is further downstream than ChesLen. That day it'd taken me a solid four hours to reach Thompson's Bridge -- and we hadn't even passed Lenape yet. That's when we discovered we might've miscalculated our trip length...
Instead of six hours on the water, we realized we were facing a solid eight hours.
Since we hadn't dropped in until noon that day, we were facing the possibility of having to finish out the river near or after dusk. Kayaking in the dark? Yeah, no thanks.
The second leg of the trip was not so carefree. Fatigued and waterlogged, we were ready to get out of the water. The enchantment of the river had lifted, and what lay before us was the stark realization that we had at least an hour more of rowing to go. At this point, I took out my phone to see if I had signal and could pick up where we were located on the creek.
We were still in PA and hadn't crossed into Delaware yet. With the risk of losing our light, we decided to give a hard push towards the landing point. Things became increasingly difficult as neared the end of the trip. Muscle fatigue started to set in, and combined with the frustration of what felt like navigating a never-ending river, some mental fatigue began to set in as well.
At one point, we considered getting out by a nearby bridge and calling an Uber so that one of us could get the van and drive back to pick up the rest of the crew. When the option of an Uber was ruled out (no phone service) we opted to continue on. Eventually we reached the landing point in Delaware...around 8 o'clock. We had made it.
Despite the unexpected extra hours on the river, I got out feeling rejuvenated. I was badly sunburned, tired, and waterlogged, but felt accomplished. Enduring the experience with good friends helped alleviate the frustrations of the day, too. After the trip, we piled into the van -- all five of us and the kayaks -- and headed home.
One of the reasons why I wanted to share the account of this kayak trip was because it reminds me so much of navigating a life in the arts (or life in general for that matter). After the trip, I couldn't help but reflect on how the challenges of the day mirrored so many of the challenges I've faced trying to navigate a career in the arts.
Pursuing the arts (writing, acting, film, music, dance, art, the list goes on...) can mean different things to different people. For some, it's chasing a dream of fame and fortune, for others it's avoiding the cubicle, and still for others, it's simply about following a passion or mastering a craft. I think that no matter what the motivation, those who choose to pursue a life in the arts will encounter challenges similar to what we faced on the Brandywine last Saturday.
Basically what I'm saying is...
Living a creative life can sometimes feel like you're stuck in a kayak down a River for eight hours.
If you're feeling that way, here are a few things I learned from the kayak trip that might help you on your creative journey.
Commit to it, fully.
Like I mentioned above, when you drop in on the Brandywine you're on water until you get to the landing point. Deciding to pursue the arts also requires this mindset. Understand and accept that you're going to be on a long journey. In other words, it's a marathon, not a sprint. There will be easy days, there will be hard days, and some days you'll just get stuck. No matter what happens though, you have to push through. Stay focused on your goals and stay committed.
Adapt to your circumstances.
Rocks, rapids, still water, dams...these are just a few of elements the we faced on the water. Each required us to adapt to our surroundings so that we could continue moving forward. Make sure that you stay aware of your circumstances so you can adapt and move forward towards your goals. Each challenge you face in your career is an opportunity for growth. Hitting rapids? Stay sharp. Stuck on a shallow riverbed? Reassess and if you have to, get out, grab your boat, and get back in the water.
If you have to, take a break.
Rest is so important. There's no shame in taking a break if you have to. Whether it's a physical break, or even just a mental break from your work. Take it. There's no better way to reset and refocus than through rest.
Understand that the way through isn't always the obvious way.
When we came upon the dam in the river, we had to assess the best way to cross over it with our kayaks. This required us to slow down, survey the area, and make a decision as to which way we were going to go. A more experienced kayaker may have just taken on the dam and gone straight over, but we knew that wasn't for us. We ended up pulling off to the side and transferring the kayaks by way of the bank. We got over the dam, but it wasn't the most obvious way.
This applies to the creative life in so many ways. An arrangement that works for someone else, might not work for you -- and that's okay. Find what works for you so that you can reach your goal. It might not be the most obvious solution, but when you find it you will know it's the right one.
Never give up.
No matter what happens, no matter how frustrated you get, and no matter how much you want to stop -- don't! You have to keep pushing yourself. When we were nearing the end of the kayak trip, we nearly stopped twice to get out early. Ultimately, we had to continue on the water, and it turned out to be for the best. Keep your end goal in mind, and keep moving forward -- no matter what. The journey might take longer than you expect, but you will make it.
I hope this post offers some clarity to anyone who might currently be facing some wild waters on their creative journey. Stay the course, and don't forget to enjoy yourself along the way.