In most summers when I was a child, we went camping in France. Other than pain au chocolat and squat toilets, there was one theme woven through all of those holidays – a family canoeing trip. We always rented canoes for a day, heading off along a river into the countryside.
This sounds straightforward, and no doubt for other families who enjoy similar outings it is just that. But for us, it never was.
The river was always fast, there were always plenty of rapids, and one of us would invariably capsize, disappearing downstream pursued by a procession of rucksacks and flip flops and baguettes.
The trouble with rivers, is that they only move in one direction. If you want to sit back and enjoy the ride downstream, you have to go upstream first. We would battle against raging torrents for hours trying to reach a town or village up river.
I have many memories of heaving boats up mud banks through undergrowth and corn fields to avoid more treacherous stretches, of mum shouting from the back and dad in the front not hearing above the water and mum shouting louder, of me in a boat between them crying, of great frustration, of fatigue, of blistered hands, and of that sweet moment when we would finally arrive and sit in a cafe and laugh about the whole ordeal.
When you paddle up a river for the first time, you soon learn that you have to keep moving forward, otherwise you drift off in the wrong direction quickly
Though hopefully not as frantic and wet, life is like this. Whatever goals or dreams we have, wherever we want our lives to go, we have to keep moving forward, no matter what.
This isn’t always easy, and just taking the next step can take every ounce of willpower or energy available. There are a million things that can stall us – disappointment, fear, distraction, exhaustion…
When is doesn’t feel like we’re getting anywhere fast, it’s discouraging. I often assume that because things are painfully slow, nothing is happening and I feel like giving up.
But I’m learning from others who inspire me and my own journey, that any movement in the right direction is success and should be celebrated. Often things just don’t happen quickly. They require huge perseverance, and it is this slow, constant and steady push that will get us where we want to be.
A dying art
Perseverance doesn’t come naturally these days. Everything is instant and there’s really not much we have to wait for.
We binge-watch a TV series in a night – no waiting a week in eager anticipation for the next episode. We read messages milliseconds after they are sent – no watching at the window for the postman to find out how a loved one is doing. We hear about events from across the globe as they unfold – not long ago the news would have taken years to reach our ears.
Everything. Should. Happen. Now. This is what we have learnt to expect, and we feel there’s something going wrong if it’s not the case.
The problem with this, is that progress in our lives nearly always doesn’t happen instantly – things take time. This hasn’t changed and it never will. Those who want to thrive today need to go out of their way to learn perseverance, because our culture is teaching us the opposite.
It’s a good thing
Although it can be frustrating, I’m glad everything isn’t instant, because there would be no process. And the process is what life’s all about.
Achieving big goals is nice, but we actually spend 99.9% of our time on the way to those moments – in the valleys and on the hillsides working toward those mountain peaks.
If we want to live, happy, fulfilling lives, it is essential that we learn to enjoy that journey. If we don’t, and believe instead that only those mountain top moments will satisfy, we will be sorely disappointed when we reach the top and find that success isn’t so fulfilling after all.
Because discontented people will not be made content by success – only those who have learnt in the process to live full of joy and peace despite challenging circumstances. It is only those who will benefit from their achievements.
Learning to enjoy the journey is the key to perseverance. Persevering doesn’t need to be a miserable slog – the process and the waiting is supposed to be immensely fun.
You were born to do great things, but those things are not supposed to be your source of joy and satisfaction. Set about enjoying the everyday, slow and steady pursuit. Take one small step forward at a time and prioritise fun and fulfilling relationships along the way. You have what it takes to be happy and successful, by enjoying the 99.9% too.