In my last Morning Buzz article, I talked about the life-work balance, and how the most important thing is that your work and your personal life are meaningful. In a long-winded way, I was telling you to be bold and look for the richest experiences life has to offer.
There are two uniquely bold journeys that captured my heart this year. Although it didn’t happen this year, I learned that Mike Posner walked across the United States in 2019. He started at Asbury Park, New Jersey at the Atlantic Ocean and eventually found his way to Venice Beach, California and the Pacific Ocean. As that fascinated me I also followed an ongoing journey as Cyril Derreumaux kayaked, by himself, from Monterey California all the way to Hilo, Hawaii.
I’ve always admired endurance athletes and the determination they possess to get a job done. When we in local government set out to solve problems in our communities, grit and determination are things we have to have. Chances are that right now you are working on something that you have carried for a long time, and it feels like there is no conclusion in sight. When I watched as Cyril paddled across the pacific and pondered Mike’s journey walking across the America I knew there was something in those experiences that I could channel. These are the highlights of my takeaways, but from both of these men there is a wealth of available content already available and more to come on how these experiences changed them.
Have a Plan
This is the most obvious one, but you really have to think about what you are going to do, when you are going to do it, how those timelines overlap and what you are going to do when things go wrong. When you setout to walk across a continent the plan seems so simple, start over here and walk all the way over there. There is so much more to it when you are taking a months long journey. You need to think about how far into your journey you’ll be where, and what the weather will be like. If you were to leave the Atlantic Coast in September, you may find yourself unable to continue through the winter months in the heartland.
Similarly, most kayaking trips require minimal planning. You know where you will put your boat in, make sure you have enough water bottles and sunscreen, then you start paddling. Cyril’s kayak is no standard rig, Valentine as she is called has a sleeping cabin, and a storage area for months of food. Water pumps were configured to turn seawater into freshwater, and the solar panels would power his means of communication with the support team onshore.
Simple walks and simple kayak trips require minimal planning, it can all be done in your head. Larger expeditions, like the work we do, require detailed planning.
Be Ready to Adapt
I followed the kayak trip of Cyril daily. His GPS location was pinged to a tracker, and he would pass messages through his satellite phone to his team. You could post comments that his team would read to him, and he even answered questions while resting in his cabin. We knew everything that was going on, you can even still read the updates and see what his path looked like each day. Day 81 brought a surprise update though, on day 46 Cyril’s main automatic water pump had failed. He was left with a manual pump to create freshwater and he had not told anybody except for Dave, not even his family, for five weeks. It was important to him that others didn’t worry about him unnecessarily, but he made some adjustments to stay safe. Cyril spent almost two hours per day pumping water through a back-up pump and did not share the news until he had enough freshwater stored to last the rest of his voyage. Those that have been following Cyril for some time know that this was his second major adaptation. He was actually set to make this trip last year, but due to bad weather conditions had to abandon the trip not far off the coast of California.
While there are hours of content about Mike Posner’s walk you can see the best summation of it in his music video for his song ‘Live Before I Die’. In the video you learn that he was bitten by a rattlesnake and airlifted to an ICU in Colorado at risk of losing his leg. After regaining his ability to walk he was ready to keep going, he got dropped off at the same spot he had stopped and got back to walking.
For Cyril the adjustment was to take a lengthy additional step every day so he could reach his goal, for Mike he had to fully stop so he could return to his journey. The less you know about your path, the more flexible your plan will be, meaning you will have to be ready to adapt even more. Adaptations are as diverse as our experiences, but sometimes we have to take longer, work harder or do things differently to find our way to our eventual destination. Equipment, plans, nature and bodies will fail us at times, it’s part of life, but we are defined by how we meet those circumstances.
Success Isn’t Easy, But It’s Simple, Keep Going!
Think about walking and think about paddling. These are some of the simplest things to do for most humans, they come so naturally to us. (As I write this, I want to acknowledge my privilege as a person living without disability. I understand that my experience is not universal but am using generally held experiences to illustrate my point.) To paddle across the Pacific Ocean all you have to do is paddle, every paddle will get you closer to Hawaii, still we know that Cyril’s journey was anything but easy. The very same thing could be said for walking across the United States. By five years old I had mastered walking, my success rate of steps per incident is very high. I can put one foot in front of the other with the best of them, but seeing somebody walk across the country leaves you wondering whether you could do it.
Physically, most people could do either of these trips with enough training and planning, but the mentality is the greatest obstacle to endure. Most of the work we do is simpler than we acknowledge, even within complex problems. To do extraordinary things we have to be willing to do the ordinary things more consistently and with greater dedication than those around us. The simplicity of success in so many areas of life astonishes me. I know I’m better off when I simply don’t eat sweets or spend less money, these things are simple but eating well and saving money is hard. The same could be said for our work, we are at our best when we commit ourselves to doing the ordinary extraordinarily.
Just today, from Mayor Mike Bloomberg, I heard this quote of President Lyndon B. Johnson and it has been stuck in my head ever since.
When the burdens of the presidency seem unusually heavy, I always remind myself it could be worse. I could be a mayor.
– President Lyndon B. Johnson
President Johnson knew the work of local governments to be admirable. Our mission requires sacrifice as we tackle challenges that society cannot naturally cope with. The endurance of local government professionals is something extraordinary. While the value that we produce makes us keen to keep moving we still do tough work.
For us to succeed we have to plan, adapt and commit to continuously moving forward. This Summer, the extraordinary journeys of Cyril Derreumaux and Mike Posner inspired me to just keep going. Thank you to all of you terrific ELGLers for going far for your communities!