Work Smarter-Not Harder: Lesson From Kayaking

By Suzanne Holman • July 3rd, 2011
Suzanne Kayaking


I absolutely LOVE being on the water!
And when you are in a kayak, you actually can feel at one with that water.
You're there with the sea creatures, creating very little disturbance to their habitat.

Here's the story of a great kayak adventure afternoon:

It all started with a PERFECT weather day.   Not too hot – not too cold.
It was a just-right day!  Like Goldilocks and the porridge that she chose that was just the right temperature when she visited the cottage of the three bears!

My daughter and I each were in a single kayak and my son-in-law was in a three-person kayak with my two grandsons, 6 and 8.

We decided we were ready for a good adventure heading to an island that was farther than we had actually paddled before.
I was feeling strong although I hadn't kayaked for close to two years.

We headed out into the water and it became clear to me that it would be a constant effort to keep from being pulled by the current.  
I found myself working my left arm too much and felt a bit of cramping starting in my upper arm.  Years ago I had an injury that resulted in my having a monocep instead of a bicep when the long head of the bicep ruptured.  Generally I don't notice a difference in the performance of that arm.  At this moment it was screaming at me!

I experimented with focusing on using different arm muscles and different paddle strokes.  It wasn't helping.  

I asked for some feedback from my daughter and then from my son-in-law.  He could see that I was using more of an up and down motion rather than moving my upper body side to side.  I focused my attention on changing my strokes and was able to get a pretty good rhythm going.  

We stopped at an island, had some snacks and the group did some hiking up on the island.

We talked about going to land that was fairly close to the island and my son-in-law would get a ride to our van and drive back and pick us up.  I wasn't ready to end the day and we all decided that we would go back to our original launch site.  One advantage was that going in the opposite direction would mean having that current stress on the right arm instead of left arm.

I loved the flow that I was feeling as I paddled along using more of the side to side motion.  Soon we were seeing and feeling the waves being created by wind that had kicked up.  I've always loved going over waves, whether on a body board, raft, swimming or in a kayak.  I was loving that feeling and the boys were giggling and screaming with delight with the up and down of the waves.

However, they were starting to pick up intensity and the waves were getting a little more powerful than we preferred.  

The thought of the cold water in the case of a flip-over and the worry of having two little boys in that cold water brought up some concern for us.  It was important to move rapidly to get back to shore before wind got too intense.

I totally focused on my body movements and kept a rhythm going.  I noticed that if I took my focus away from what I was doing, I would lose momentum and would start being moved off course by the water.  I felt the need to be super focused so as to keep our progress going toward shore.

As we got closer to our launchiing spot, the waters started to calm down and my daughter and I were deep into a conversation and paddling smoothly along.  Her husband called to us as we were about to go past the site!  What had felt like a struggle earlier in the paddle was now just in a flow for both of us.  My body felt as though it had worked hard, but was not in any pain.

It felt great to complete this long and challenging kayak paddle.  The intensity of the water made the victory back to land even sweeter!

Amazing when you decide there might be an easier, more efficient way of doing something and get some support so that you can work smarter – not harder!

I'll make a point of thinking back to that experience when I notice I'm living my life "harder – not smarter" and turning it all around.
I'll remember to ask for support when I feel there might be a better way of doing something rather than just working harder in the same way.



I loved how you focused on your goal and stayed with the flow of what your body was telling you…first the warning pain, then catching your rhythm, then letting your energy take you farther.
Great lesson. Thanks.

What a great story, Suzanne.  I was right there with you in the water, in the pain and in the appreciation and flow. The thing is I was fine in your body.  I can't even conceive of having that courage in my own.  Part of it is, I'm not much of a swimmer.  But more so, I admire your energy and again, what for me, shows up as courageousness!  Kudos to you!


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