Doing Right Up River

I’ve always loved the water. Its a love that is kind of ironic for a girl that can barely doggy paddle from one end of the pool to the other. Even though I was more apt to sink than swim, that didn’t stop me as a kid from jumping into the waves at the beach, or enjoying a boat ride across Smith Mountain Lake, or kayaking in sounds on the other side of the world. I don’t even have to get in. Just being around the water is a relaxing experience to me. The sound of it… the lapping against the dock or hearing the creatures from below break the water’s surface. I love watching it. The tide or current moves debris along an invisible route, sometimes quickly, sometimes lazily. But perhaps my favorite thing is when water is still – dead still – and something disturbs the surface. I love watching the ripples start out small and focused, but are soon rolling out 10, 20 times the size of the initial drop. It reminds me of going fishing with my Pappy at our pond at the farm. Putting a worm on the hook was too dicey for little fingers, so we’d get a can of corn out of Meme’s kitchen cabinet for bait and load up on the 4-wheeler. As you can imagine, it didn’t take long for three kids to get bored when the fish wouldn’t bite (Pappy would say it was because we were talking too loud), so soon we’d start throw things into the water just to see how big the ripples would get. That’s where I learned to skip rocks. How many times could we get it to skip? 1-2-3 times until the stone sunk… ripples crisscrossing the water’s surface.

The ripple effect. It doesn’t take much to create a wave, a change on a still surface that instigates more change, that instigates more change, that… you get it.

The seminar to the Northern Neck was hands down my favorite to date. It was initially because of the water (obviously) but after some reflection, I think it was the perfect place to be during the midpoint in this experience. The culture of the entire region is to respect heritage and tradition but also be forward thinking about the future. Whether it was the shrinking farming community on the mainland, or the eroding island of Tangier, the people have an attitude of perseverance – even in the face of some large unknowns.

After dinner one night, the mayor of Tangier came out to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation island where we were staying to visit for a while. During our conversation, he shared what it was like living and working in the bay his whole life (crabbing is a highly regulated industry and its tough on the watermen). one of the CBF staff asked, what I thought was, a loaded question in a room full of agriculturalists: “Don’t you wish that there were more regulations on farming practices that impact the bay and your livelihood, since you have to abide by regulations being a waterman?”

I bristled a bit. I was honestly ready for a comment about run-off or mandated stream exclusion or something similar. But, to my surprise, the mayor immediately responded with “no.”

“I don’t wish mandates on farmers, because I know what that is like. I just trust that you all are doing what’s right and know that it impacts the watermen. We should all do what’s right.”

The ripple effect. One drop and the surface is no longer the same. When I think through where I was a little over a year ago when I started this program, things were different. I’ve changed jobs. I’ve gotten engaged. I felt busy a year ago, but now I am ACTUALLY busy. I quit something I really, really loved because group consensus went against what I felt was right. I’ve started new extracurriculars and serve in new volunteer roles. I work out now – that’s a biggie.

The decisions we make don’t just impact us – there is a whole ripple effect into the people we know, the networks we have, the commitments we make. The wake of our decisions spread far from us, but we are ultimately responsible for making the splash.

The decision to apply for this program was a splash. The network – the friends – I have made reflect that. And you never know who is on the shore watching the wake. I’ve had people I just met say, “Hey, you’re in that VALOR program, right?”

Its more than just fun trips and laughs and farm tours though – the self reflection of what matters most, personally and professionally, is a splash. I’m thinking about people’s actions as they relate to personality traits I’ve learned about in this program. In my new role at work, I study other manager’s leadership styles and compare them to the leaders I have come to know through VALOR. Bringing what I learn home is a splash – sharing contacts or suggestions with my family and friends creates a ripple that wouldn’t have been there if I never applied for this program.

So, if you’re still with me at the end of this novel of a blog, my reflection at the halfway point in the program is this – make the splash, but watch the ripples. They spread out from your decision. Make sure you’re doing right up river because you impact those downstream


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