I’ve just returned from a most enjoyable holiday with friends, floating serenely along the Shropshire Union canal on a narrowboat. It’s the gentlest of pastimes, intercut with frantic moments of activity. And tea. Lots of tea.
When we arrived to pick up Sir Valadon on a sunny Saturday afternoon we were welcomed by our smiling host, who ran through all the technical stuff we needed to know. He did it clearly and expertly, checking in with us regularly and making sure we had understood and retained the information. He was a good teacher. He showed us how to read the dials, check the engine, go backwards as well as forwards and how to stow the ropes without falling over them. He explained how to use the showers and pump the water away afterwards, how to use the heating system and where to find the bilge pump. He told us the etiquette of approaching other boats at bridges and how to open and close the lock gates. The briefing took a whole hour, and once we had the information we needed – including emergency phone numbers and which pubs sold the best beer – away we chugged.
Boy! Does 3mph feel racy when you haven’t steered 63ft of inflexible steel and wood round a bend before.
So that’s when we really started to acquire some new skills, because there is nothing like making mistakes to get you improving very quickly. Boat owners, you might want to stop reading at this point, as I describe how we bounced our way into locks, scraped through overhanging foliage and grounded out in the shallows. Poor old Sir Valadon…
But by the end of the week, the entire crew of four was handling that baby like a pro, because not only had we learned through our mistakes, we also benefited from the advice of kindly strangers throughout the whole route. It turns out that everyone – even the most seasoned boat owner – was a novice once, and most people are only too happy to share the tips and tricks they’d learned over time. For example, the best order in which to carry out multiple tasks at a flight of locks, and not tying up the boat too tightly at the front because actually rigid boats don’t park on bends so well.
A different environment can do wonders for your perspective. Like so many, I suspect, I go through my everyday life trying not to let on if I’m struggling. As a coach, trainer and business owner there is a certain expectation that I know what I’m talking about. Much of the time I actually do – which will come as a relief to any clients who are reading this, I’m sure. But there are times when I could use a little insight from someone who’s had a different set of experiences from me. Imagine how disastrous our week on Sir Valadon would have been if we’d tried to bluff our way through the whole thing without taking any advice on board with us? Definitely tears before bedtime.
Something I shall take away from my boating adventure therefore is this: there is no shame in saying to other people “I’ve grounded out! Do you have any ideas about how I could do this better?” It’s one of the philosophies at the very heart of the Springboard family of programmes. The only difference between me, the novice, and you, the expert, is the passage of time and the willingness to listen and learn.