In Dr. Peter Vaill’s book “Management as a Performing Art” he introduced us to the term permanent white water. He said, “We live in a time of permanent white water… Permanent white water consists of events that are surprising, novel, messy, costly, and unpreventable… With this there seems to be widespread agreement: permanent white water conditions are regularly taking us all out of our comfort zones and asking things of us that we never imagined would be required. Permanent white water means permanent life outside one’s comfort zone.”
It seems to me that “permanent white water” is even more apparent, prevalent and overwhelming now than it was then-and is impacting all of us in our work and daily lives.
As I have read the posts, blogs, tweets, etc., of many people of all ages, stages and stripes, it struck me that there are many people in white water today. This provokes, in all of us, a tension or anxiety — what should I do? paddle? backpaddle? take the paddle out of the water? For each of us the question seems to boil down to — do I ride the rapids or do I bail and try to get to the river’s edge until the water isn’t so white?
Once, when my feet were bare, and I had not the means of obtaining shoes I came to the chief of Kufah in a state of much dejection, and saw there a man who had no feet. I returned thanks to God and acknowledged his mercies, and endured my want of shoes with patience.
– Sadi, The Gulistan
We all feel very vulnerable when negotiating our work and personal lives through turbulent times. We look to family, friends, or “spirituality” as anchors, to calm the waters. And these all work well, albeit in a temporary sense. But those periods of calm water, help us immensely. Calm water helps us re-group, re-focus and re-assess. Those respites in calm waters help us take the time to plan how to deal with the white water.
So, where are we today? Our personal “white water” may include loss of a jobs. personally, and amongst family and friends ; increasing debt; loss of asset value; changes in living arrangements due to affordability issues; illness – both physical and mental; credit card companies changing rules; banks denying loans; loss of health insurance; questions about how health care reform will affect me; and a myriad of others.
“Permanent white water forces me to rethink the meaning of what I am doing, including the basic foundations that give my life and work meaning.” -Peter Vaill
Where do we go? Where do we find calm water? Where do we find new anchors? Now, many of us have relied upon, in the past, materialistic things to be our anchors in times of stress, to give us some sense of meaning in our lives. Now, those may be gone.
Rather than go anchorless, look for new anchors. Do not let white water mess you up. Do not “push the river.” Go with the flow. Have fun with it. Use humor, friendship, service to others, personal development opportunities as new anchors. Reach out to others. And remember, the best things in life are not things.
Fill your moments with action, and there will be little time left for worry. Fill your moments with meaning, and there will be little time left for despair.
Fill your days with discovery, and you will fill your life with valuable knowledge. Fill your hours with caring, compassion and respect, and you will fill your world with love and friendship.
Fill your thoughts with positive possibilities, and the best things in life will surely be within your reach. Fill your words with encouragement and enthusiasm, and you’ll often find people and circumstances lining up in your favor.
Fill your efforts with purpose, persistence, diligence and integrity. And your life will be filled with valuable achievements.
Fill your heart with a love of truth and goodness. And your soul will be filled with the treasure of wisdom.
Your life is a most precious gift. Fill every corner of it with the best that you can.