So let’s get straight to the point.
I can’t swim. Me and water are like work associates. I see him every day, say what’s up, ask him about the kids (out of politeness), but I usually don’t hang out with him. But this past Sunday I said “f*** it” and went white water rafting (By “f*** it” what I really mean is “well, since having the ability to swim wouldn’t really help me if i was hurled out of my raft, I might as well do it”).
It was an awesome experience. I loved it. I never fell out of the raft once. However, I did get launched into the air from the back of the raft to the front while we were going down one of the rapids and I ended up hitting myself in the mouth with my paddle. I have the busted lip to prove it. I decided to tell people I got into a fight with Jack Bauer and Chuck Norris. I think they bought it.
It was hilarious to watch people fall out of their rafts (don’t worry, I laughed AFTER I knew they were safe…most of the time). It was just as funny to watch other groups’ rafts moving haphazardly in the water, but frustrating when these rafts were in front of us providing additional obstacles for us to quickly maneuver around (“MOVE, MAN! You’re messing up the trail!”). That’s not to say our crew didn’t have it’s own issues. I’ll put it this way, by the time we started the second half of the trail, we were professionals at getting our raft unstuck from between rocks.
But by far the best part of the trip was being the Captain of our raft. What does the Captain do? Basically, they are positioned at the back of the raft and direct the other members of the crew. Everyone has to work together to move and steer the raft where it needs to go, but the Captain is the driver. Let me remind you, this is the FIRST time I’ve ever been white water rafting. Oh, and let’s not forget that I can’t swim. And now, I was asked to guide four other people (two of whom were novices like me and the other two who had done this once or twice before) down this River of Death. I was scared as feces. To be honest, the only reason why I volunteered is because one of my friends nominated me to be Captain. I couldn’t tell if my friend was just trying to take her name out of the running or if she truly thought I would be a good Captain. Regardless, I felt like I HAD to do it. Whether she knew it or not, calling me out in front of everyone was basically a challenge. I held out for as long as I could thinking that someone else might volunteer themselves to be Captain, but the longer I waited, the more compelled I felt to man-up and do it. They needed someone to step up, so I took the bait.
When we started on the trail, I was just about the worst Captain you could imagine. I was giving my crew the wrong instructions, I wasn’t loud enough for everyone to hear, and couldn’t make decisions quick enough. My crew ended up making a lot of decisions on the fly because of my indecisiveness. However, little by little, I got used to the trail. I learned when to speed up, when to slow down, when to use our raft’s momentum and the flow of the water to save energy, and how I should use my crew for sharp turns while I could handle small steering on my own. My technique had improved by the time we reached the halfway point where we took a break, but that didn’t stop me from asking the rest of my crew if someone else wanted a shot at being Captain. I still didn’t feel equipped to be a good Captain. Decent, yeah. But not good and definitely not great. As I expected, no one volunteered. A little into the second half of the trail though, it finally clicked. At that point, our raft had become a well-oiled machine. My crew trusted me and I trusted them. I even gave my crew compliments through our journey to keep worker moral high. I was confident in my commands and (for the most part) got us through the rest of the trail unscathed.
It was a great feeling.
It was great because I felt like I earned the trust of my crew members.
It was great because, even though I was far from perfect, my non-swimming, white water rafting noob ass did pretty damn good.
It was great because I didn’t die (big ups to Jesus for keeping me safe).
But most importantly, it was great because I love being a leader. “Wait, didn’t you say earlier that you didn’t even want to be the Captain?” I don’t always think I’m the right person to lead nor do I always jump at the first chance to lead, but when I’m put in a position to do so, I put all my energy into it. To me, being a leader is about trust and service. I don’t believe I can be seen as an effective leader unless my crew trusts me to lead them to victory and unless I’m making sacrifices to ensure my crew reaches victory. These two components are what I see as my greatest strengths as a leader and this experience reaffirmed my love for being in leadership.
Anyway, I had a great time crossing “white water rafting” off my Things Black People Don’t Do That I’ve Done list. Next on the list is sky diving. Bungee jumping will never be on this list.