21 Oct

"Tiny adjustments…Tiny adjustments."

Business and life lessons learned at 40 MPH

We recently took our first family vacation in a year. We snuck away to the beach-me, my husband, and our two teenagers. My husband came back from the hotel front desk and said he booked a WaveRunner trip. In all seriousness, my mind was trying to imagine what type of water recreational vehicle could seat four people. He is the adventurous one, and neither kid has a driver's license. It took me about two minutes to realize he expected me to drive one, and we would each have a kid on the back. Sure, I have ridden and even driven on Midwest lakes. This was the ocean-way above my pay grade.

Give me a snorkel, zip line, tall structure, mountain, cave, volcano, glacier, it all sounds fun. Passenger in an ATV, WaveRunner, race car, no problem.

We had a 30-second tutorial about the WaveRunners after signing fifteen pages of waiver documentation (instills confidence). I heard where the kill switch was, squeeze the handle for gas, and only make small steering adjustments to correct course. The guide looked right at me and said, "Tiny adjustments. You understand? Tiny adjustments."

Within minutes, we were riding in a single file line from a bay into the Gulf of Mexico side of Key West. It wasn't bad. It was actually fun to be moving, and I could tell my son was enjoying himself, too. He was holding on while my daughter and husband rode in front of us. They were gradually further ahead of us, and too soon, they were just a blur. The water got much rougher, and each time we hit a wave, my hand slipped off the gas. After a few hard hits (you're welcome, chiropractor), I remembered that our leader also said something about going fast enough to stay on top of the waves. So how much faster would I need to go? I was barely steady as it was, taking hard hits and getting left in the dust. Commentary from my back-seat driver was not helpful either.

We circled up together and stopped to check-in. Our guide asked how we were doing and said now the trip was about to start. What? I felt extraordinarily fortunate to still be alive, and he says we haven't really begun? He explained that we were moving out of the Gulf into the Atlantic. The water would be choppier, and it was imperative to stay in a single line, stay together (while he looked at me), and give way to boats. Yeah, that part makes sense.

We took off again, and I resumed my last place in the lineup. I am apparently very good at take-offs because it's a grown-up game of following the leader, gaining in speed but not moving too quickly. When everyone got up to full speed, however, it was HARD to keep up. Even though I felt like my face would fly off, I was going nearly as fast as everyone else on the straight paths. However, when they did S-curves, I was so afraid of dumping my precious cargo (who was NOT afraid of anything) that I slowed down. While navigating the curves, I began to appreciate what the guide meant about small steering corrections go a long way.

After about 35 hours, I mean 35 minutes, we once again circled up near a sandbar for a chance to hop off and swim. When starting back up for the return trip, my son insisted on switching parent drivers to no one's surprise. My daughter and I reluctantly started moving in the last place again. I got up to a speed of 72 on the straight paths and was improving but still felt like I was going to fall off at any minute. While cruising along, I noticed that a boat (not a small boat) would pass between me and my husband/son. Panic set in! I knew to let the boat pass, but how close could I get? What if I could not catch back up with the group? I had already learned from a few unfortunate waves when my hand slid off the gas that it is hard to get enough speed to get on top of the waves when you are starting from a stopped position. There is a lot of saltwater in the face and bouncing around in the seat. And there was a different teenager back seat driver critiquing my performance at each bump. On the last leg back to dock, I gained enough confidence to chart my own path. I skipped the S-curves to keep going fast and straight. I tried to enjoy the ride and take time to look further in front of our WaveRunner than the next wave to take in the scenery a bit.

I had a little time for reflection on that last part of the journey and in the days following. Here are my key takeaways related to the trip. To business. To life.

Survey the Path. When I felt confident enough to look further in front of our WaveRunner, I started to see the "road" and lanes of buoys and boats. In business and life transitions, we often find ourselves in new territory. It takes time to learn the rules of the road. It also takes a conscious effort to look up and see new patterns emerge.

Small Corrections. Tiny course corrections allow you to maintain speed and keep your rear end in the seat.

Do not Let Off the Gas. You need to go fast enough to stay on top of the waves, to ride out the current, and not take too much spray in your face that reduces visibility and speed. I thought about my business model while riding the waves. My company, Deep End Talent Strategies, has a water theme, and my Job Search Playbook is even broken into chapters called waves. You control the process when you are riding the waves with consistent propulsion.

Listen to the Passengers. I dismissed both my passengers' criticism because they a) were not in my position and b) aren't licensed drivers yet. I realized later that they had been surveying the path the entire time because they did not have the pressures of learning something new and trying to keep their family safe. Like a workplace team, a leader benefits from hearing the perspectives and advice of others. Not having the same pressures allows employees to see some things more clearly.

Know There's Help. On the journey out to the sand bar, I got so far behind at one point that I could no longer see the group. I had so much saltwater in my eyes that I couldn't clearly see the path or the lane markers. If I am honest, that was probably the most fear I have felt in a very long time. I saw another WaveRunner approach and begin riding directly in front of me. The assistant guide had come back to lead me at my speed back to the group. You are never alone. Sometimes help appears off the horizon, and other times you need to seek it out. Remain open to help and grateful when and how it comes.

These lessons apply to my two-plus decades in the business world and my consulting business. I launched a business during a pandemic where the path was not well marked. While "pivot" became our most popular word for the year, small corrections to communication, business development, and networking went a long way. There were times when a hard hit made my hand slide off the gas, but only for a moment. And I am incredibly grateful for friends, professional networks, referral partners, and my thrill-seeking family for their support and guidance.

When we finally docked:

  • Every muscle in my body was sore.
  • I was relieved to have survived.
  • My kids were grinning from ear to ear, which parents of teenagers do not get to see as often as they would like.
  • I still wondered why there was not a four-passenger WaveRunner.
  • I told the guide that I was so excited to have exceeded 70 MPH on the way back (he laughed and said it was km).
  • I challenged myself to consider why I prefer to be a passenger in certain situations. I am still working through that.

What comfort zones or assumptions do you need to challenge yourself to push through? If you need a thought or accountability partner to talk through these topics for you or your team, please let me know how I can help.