There are a number of variations of the River of Life parable, used in religious teachings, life coaching, business trainings, etc.—all didactic in nature, illustrating an instructive lesson or principle. I find the essence of this parable especially insightful, not only on a personal level, but in my work as a leadership consultant.
Here is the story I like to relate:
The river’s current was strong. It was, in fact, all but overpowering.
A man arrived with his canoe, dragged it into the river, and began paddling upstream—against the brutal current. Soon, the man saw a monk on the riverbank—walking in the same direction as he was vigorously paddling. Working against the natural flow of the current, the hard-paddling man and his canoe were advancing at a crawl so the walking monk was able to keep pace.
From the riverbank, the monk called: “Why not turn your canoe around? That way, you can paddle downstream. It’ll be easier.”
“Paddling downstream is what a lazy person would do,” replied the man. “I’m not lazy.”
“How long do you plan to paddle upstream?”
“Until I die!”
“Want to know a secret?” asked the monk. “In life, everything you want is downstream.”
Often, finding joy in your work-life is as simple as stopping your upstream paddle. Instead, you turn downstream and go with the flow. You trust the water, so to speak, to carry you forward. You trust in the power working within you to carry you farther than an undisciplined expenditure of human effort can.
You go with what is.
You go with what you are.
You go with what you were put here to do.
That is not to say that going downstream will always be easy and pleasant. It won’t. You’ll still need to paddle with intention. A river has ebbs and flows—lulls that offer respite and contemplation, and swells that require fortitude and perseverance. You’ll still have challenges to navigate—offshoots, rapids, rocks, waterfalls, other canoes, and debris in the river. But navigating these challenges will help you grow.
At times, the river you find yourself in will seem huge and fast, with many tributaries from which to choose. You’ll need to paddle with intent, resolve, and strength, so you can navigate toward the direction calling you.
But remember this: No matter how deep and demanding the current, a deep, supportive, intelligent current will encourage and compel you forward. As you head downstream, stay alert to what you are experiencing—keep your awareness and focus sharp. Use your intuition, look for guideposts, and seek direction. Take time to stop, be still, close your eyes, and listen. Sense if and when action is needed, and when surrender better serves you. Act from a place of calm.
Sometimes we make life harder then it needs to be by resisting what is. See what is. Meet it there. Stay alert. Trust in the power within you to carry you forward to the joy that is yours to experience in work, and in life.