Safely through a narrow channel, wind and waves at our back, the bows of our canoes pierced Little Batchewaung Bay in Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada.
A party of three in two canoes–I and my daughter in one, my son paddling his open 14-ft. boat solo–pressed on, the last of our 7-day wilderness paddle through the Canadian shield. Our destination, the take-out on Nym Lake.
I glanced at the detailed topographic map snugly tucked, wrapped in plastic, between the stern thwart and the Hudson Bay pack in the belly of the boat. Surveying the far side of the lake, I reckoned our course northeastward. It was an easy paddle.
We found the Batchewaung Lake portage–800 meters–and made our way to the last lake of our journey.
On the other side of the portage, utter stillness. Glass water merging infinitely with fog. Calm quiet. Undisturbed. Nym Lake welcomed, embraced, ensconced us, but revealed little.
The sounds of our occasional strokes seemed content to hang in the air, invisible companions, like the lingering notes of a glass bell.
Little else in view but the map at my knees.
I took the moment to confirm our current location, and began scanning the near horizon.
In time, islands, a silent flotilla, arose from the water, like so many forested rafts.
Scanning the two-dimensional map, I attempted to match its lines to the ephemeral three-dimensional island ghosts, first in focus, then not.
Putting first an island on our port, then another, ahead–there it is!–on our starboard, we threaded our way.
We were never able to see much beyond the next little island, even as the ones we just passed threatened to disappear into the haze, but, by careful and frequent reckoning, we always knew where we were.
Such is the way of navigation.
As much as leaders, trainers, and coaches often, and rightly, focus on the goal ahead, real navigation rests in a thorough understanding of the present. The here. The now.
We must know where we are; sometimes, as in my canoe trip, geographically. More often, our path is less physical. We wend our way through fears, skills, desires, needs, assets, time, demands, and opportunities.
Without clarity, however, without authentic self-awareness to anchor us as assuredly as latitude and longitude on a map, efforts to achieve our goals are feckless.
Of the two–knowing where I am and knowing where I’m going–I always take careful stock of the former. This essential knowledge helps me to navigate, goal in mind.
And so, sun rising, fog lifting, islands parting, giving way to reveal the far shore, we set a course across the lake, paddling out.
Goal achieved, we packed out of Quetico a bit more skilled in, and appreciative of, the craft of map reading.
To get where you’re going, know where you are.
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