The Canoe Ride of Life

The metaphor that changed my perspective on living life


Leon Purton

3 years ago | 4 min read

In high school, I took a class called Outdoor Education. It taught things like how to navigate with a map and compass, and about the National Parks and the native wildlife.

That wasn’t why I took the course though. I took it because we also had time during school to go rock climbing, kayaking, white-water rafting and abseiling. It was amazing.

During the class, there was one quote from the teacher that has stuck with me. He spoke about learning how to control the raft on the river, and the best way to navigate the rapids.

He said;

On the river, you must remember you’re in control if you are moving faster or slower than the water. If you’re moving at the same speed, the river is in control.

It has always stuck with me, but I have come to realise just how powerful a metaphor it is. He never meant it as a metaphor, but it is, it is a metaphor about living life. It describes the importance of controlling your speed.

Living life

I’ll ask you a question, when do you feel the most alive? Or perhaps a more pertinent question might be, when do you feel the most connected with yourself or those around you?

Living life is the feeling you get when you’re chasing your partner around the living room. It is the feeling you get when you sign up to do your first fun run. It is the feeling you get when your favourite song comes on and you have to start dancing.

Or, it is the feeling of finishing your latest book while in the bath.

It is the decision to spend some extra moments with your friend who is having a tough time. It is taking the time to build a cubby with your kids. It is recognising the need to give yourself a sleep-in on Sunday.

Each of these moments is special. They are special not because of the individual moment of itself. They are special because you are making a deliberate choice.

You are choosing to not let life happen.

You are choosing the speed of your life. You are saying at this point in time, I choose to do this.

So much of our life is controlled by someone else. You need to be somewhere at a certain time. You need to tick these things off your never-ending to-do list. You work so hard to satisfy the needs of those around you. Those frantic moments are the rapids of your life.

At some points, it feels like you wake in the morning, stuff happens, and then you’re in your pyjamas again. It drains you.

Nothing significant happened, nothing memorable occurred — Life happened and you were its passenger.

Life was in control.

Controlling the river

Those that have done it will tell you. Rafting down a fast-moving river is exhilarating and scary.

The river is always interspersed with large boulders, deceptive drops, and sharp turns. Even if you have rafted it many times, it will always offer you something new.

The experienced rafters will know the eddy points in the river. They will see where the water pools on the inside of bends and behind rock formations in the river. They know they are opportunities to rest, consolidate and reposition. For the river never stops, but you can find moments where it stills.

They also know that when it is time to run the rapids, everyone needs to be paddling. You need to take speed in so that you take the centre of the run and avoid the trouble at the edges.

These are choices, but they have learnt them over time. They learn to recognise the pace of the river, and when to speed up or slow down.

In our lives, we also have this ability.

We just have to choose.


“The great thing about life-the most magnificent thing about being these sentient human beings-is that we have been given the power of choice.”
Bryant McGill, Voice of Reason

The sage advice from my teacher about learning to navigate white-water is also great advice for navigating life. Let me just change a few words;

In life, you must remember you’re in control if you’re moving faster or slower than life around you. If you’re moving at the same speed, life is in control.

To extend this further, you will feel the most alive and the most connected with yourself and those around you when you choose your speed through life.

Like whitewater rafting, it will be exhilarating and it will be scary. You can never place life on hold — even to savour the most beautiful of moments. And you cannot skip forward to avoid the hard parts. But you can control your speed. All you need to do is choose.

So, when you notice that life is happening to you, choose to speed up or slow down. Choose the speed of your life.

Choose to feel alive, to feel a connection, to feel present.

For it is your choices that make you human, it makes you alive.


Created by

Leon Purton

Inspired by life. Leadership, Growth, Personal Development. Engineer and Sports Enthusiast. Top Writer in Leadership.







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