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A picture I took while kayaking in Pennsylvania in 2008. That’s sort of like canoeing, right?

A friend sent a Facebook message to a small group of us a couple of days ago to see if we were up for having a high school reunion.

It will be twenty years in June since graduation.

Suffice to say I have since been reflecting on high school.

Back in our last year, we were each asked to select a quote to go with our formal graduation photo in the yearbook.

This was mine:

Love many, trust few, always paddle your own canoe.

I’ve since learnt it was likely a misquote.

Which I now think makes my matching it with a kayak in the above image sort of perfect.

That said, it appears widely all over the Internet, and has been popular in autograph books since at least 1879 according to Barry Popik who writes “an online etymological dictionary (over 13,000 entries) investigating the origins of American words, names, quotations and phrases.” I think that’s just about the coolest thing ever and so almost just abandoned this post right here to spend the rest of the night surfing his blog.

Oh! And “autograph books“? All the rage among students from the 15th to 19th century when they began to be replaced by … you guessed it … yearbooks!

I remember searching and searching for the perfect quote to “sum me up” for my graduating yearbook as these things are especially important and meaningful at key life moments and, well, when you are eighteen.

And this one? It fit me perfectly.

At the time I’d have told you I associated it with independence. My ability to go out into the world and succeed on my own with the skills acquired through school and life until that stage.

But more honestly, I also HATED group work, and had lived through (but survived) both high school mean girl world and dating a football playing lifeguard who went to another school with a seemingly ever-present ex-girlfriend.

So while I came out smiling and loving all my peeps, my ability to actually trust others to do right by me had taken the standard high school beating.

But reflecting on my quote choice as I approach the 20 year anniversary of graduation, it’s fair to say I’ve often looked back at that quote and cringed at my cynicism.

I wish I’d gone a bit more “world is your oyster” rather than “look out for #1 because no one else will.”

Indeed, much of what I’ve done since has taught me that silos are counter-productive, hoarding information actually helps no one, and we achieve more paddling together (so to speak).

And while I’m still not one to blindly trust or suffer fools or free-loaders, I think experience has given me the skills needed to better identify my kindreds and collaborators in life.

Because always paddling alone is, well, hard and lonely.

That said, the quote still resonates with me in that it speaks to the fact that you are the main force in determining your fate.

To carry the metaphor through: You should be the one who decides on your path and then steers your canoe (or kayak!) in such a way to journey to, and arrive at, those destinations. Sure, unforeseen stuff can happen to you, but how you navigate what the river throws at you is mostly on you. Succeeding at life hinges on understanding and getting the skills you need to get to the life you want and then actively and strategically going out and getting it.

So 20 years later, I still like the thought of paddling my own canoe.

But lastly (and obviously), since choosing that quote I have gotten married and had kids. My journey aligns with my husband’s in that we agree on and want certain common things in life. So as far as “paddling of canoes” goes, I think that means we’ve each let the other into our canoe as one of the few trusted … and here I want to say “co-paddlers” and run up against my quote. Equally, in other parts of life – such as my career – I’d see co-paddlers as key colleagues and mentors – each with their own canoe that they equally let you into to paddle and help them. So, while this now suddenly brings me to ponder the idea of portaging juxtaposed with footprints in the sand (because sometimes we all need to be carried for a bit), I think if I can stretch the quote to not exclusively require always paddling my canoe by myself, but with the understanding we’re each ultimately in charge of our own personal canoe, then I’m good.

PS: Go Hawks! And if you’d like to know how AWESOME my former high school still is, here’s the video from their recent win as Canada’s Greatest Music Class. The former high school band member in me (clarinet!) rejoiced when I saw this: