A river is a wonderful metaphor for life — melting snow from a mountain, just a drop at a time, grows to a trickle that develops into a stream and before you know it, it’s a river full of life with blind spots, hairpin turns, exhilarating and sometimes treacherous rapids and waterfalls that instantly transform into brilliant still pools of water full of fish and teaming with birds and wildlife, all surrounded by beautiful vegetation. It changes constantly and can flow for thousands of miles before it ultimately gives way to its afterlife, terminating into an ocean or sea.
From Plato and Socrates to Emerson to modern day emotional intelligence wisdom, “know thyself” is considered to be foundational to defogging your windshield and adjusting your mirrors so you can navigate more clearly and reduce the blind spots.
There are many tools out there to get to know yourself and others, from personality assessments and feedback to reflective exercises and meditation. I’ve found “The River of Life,” which I was introduced to in the Berkeley Executive Coaching Institute program, to be a fun and effective tool for helping clients understand the patterns of their decision-making and behaviors, get clear on the values that drive them, and make conscious the effects of the events of their lives. It also gives me a chance to get to know them.
Getting to know you
Creating your own River of Life is pretty simple. Get a large piece of paper, pens, stickers, images cut out of magazines, and some glue. Or just draw it on a whiteboard. One of my clients did this on the computer, and ascribed numerical values to life events to analyze. Incredible. She had a couple of major aha’s, and it was really fun. Do whatever is natural for you.
First, sketch out a river to create your personal story (so far). The beginning of the river is birth, and it progresses decade-by-decade, including five-to-ten years in the future. If you don’t have a clear view of that, just end it at the present time. It can be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. On one side of the river, note the major events of your professional and academic life: school, work, civic engagement. On the other side of the river, note the major events of your personal life: health, love, play, family, spirituality.
Get creative. Improvise. Dig deep. Surprise yourself. Let the shape of the river represent your life. Insert bridges and still waters at times when your personal and academic/work life were in sync; rapids, waterfalls, rocks, when your life was difficult or exciting; tributaries when you were in transition; islands when there might have been isolation.
Soak it all in. When finished, go back and make sure nothing important was left out. Then, reflect: what popped out and why? Patterns and trends? How did any of the patterns or signature events or people shape your core values and/or change your life? What key choices did you make? Appreciate. Celebrate. What agitations or decisions are stirring inside of you now? Where do you see yourself in the near future? Far future? What questions came up? What insights did you get?
Not only is this a great “get to know you” tool, it’s also a great way to get to know others — team members, colleagues, even family. Sometimes we know those closest to us the least, eh?
Sunday Morning Reflection
Give it a try! Create the river that has run through your life.
Where were the bridges? The rapids? The still waters?
How has all of this made you who you are today? What aha’s do you have for the future?
Sunday Morning: 117