With over 80 youth from my congregation, I was ready to experience “white water” rafting on the Ocoee River, north of Chattanooga, Tennessee, where rafting took place for the Olympics in 1996. Each raft had a guide and I remember our guide sharing a warning, that people do fall out of raft while taking on some significant rapids. He reminded us we had life jackets on and helmets to protect us, and then shared two more things to prepare us for the journey,

  • if you fall out, float until the raft gets to you, or you’re ready to get back in the boat, and
  • there are pockets of strong currents in the river that can suck you under water and if it happens, just remain calm and don’t panic, because it will also push you back up. (One of our youth in another raft experienced this on our float.)

It was exhilarating as our guide helped us have fun rushing through the white water of the river. I remember him saying to us, “coming up around the next bend is a tough one, and I need all of you to shift your weight to the right, so the raft won’t tip over. Everyone just lean to your right.” When we hit those rapids, we followed his instructions perfectly with all of us leaning right. But the rapid pushed us to the right and soon we all fell out, except for our guide. He was smiling and laughing. Obviously, he planned it all along.

A few scrambled to the raft begging to get in, but most of us just enjoyed floating the river. Floating was fun, it was freeing. Yet you had to pay attention to your surroundings. You needed to look at what was coming ahead, where our raft was, and where other rafts were. If you didn’t pay attention, you could easily get lost or in a place in the river you didn’t want to be.

Here are three career lessons from that float trip to help your career.

Drifting is comfortable. It is easy to drift in your career when you get comfortable. Most of us have a career plan, then unintentionally, we begin to drift. We like what we are doing, who we work for and our teammates. Soon we can do it on “auto pilot”. Are you drifting? A warning sign is when you spend your unfocused time daydreaming, maybe planning your next vacation. If you drift too much, one day you will wake up and realize you haven’t progressed in your career.

Pay attention to your surroundings. As I did on the river, you need to pay attention to where you are in your career. Are you where you want to be, or are you drifting? At least once a year do a career check-up, asking yourself questions like:

“Am I learning and growing?”

“Am I challenged?”

“If my job ended tomorrow, am I prepared to succeed elsewhere?”

If you don’t like the answers, make adjustments.

Life will pull you down, but it will also push you back up. You will have unexpected challenges in your career that overwhelm you, make you feel like you’re going underwater and could drown. It’s a normal part of every career. Stay calm and patient, the challenges you face are not life threatening even if they feel like it. You will get through them.  You will learn from the experience and develop new career skills. New opportunities will come out of those challenges. In the end, you’ll also be stronger for the experience.

When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up—the flames will not consume you. Isaiah 43:2 (TLB)


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