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The 1992 Olympic Canoe Slalom Start Line, Parc del Segre,
La Seu d’Urgell, Catalunya (Joe Jacobi photo, February, 2021)

Two different Olympic Games. A different job at each one.

Here is the progression of both jobs as they played out at the canoeing venue’s Olympic start line:

Job #1
1. Build up drama.
2. Inject bravado.
3. Speculate on possible outcomes.
4. Consider the impact of what it would mean to win an Olympic medal.
5. Project knowing exactly what needs to be done.
6. Convey this as the opportunity of a lifetime.
7. Anticipate the finish line.

Job #2 1. Inhale the stillness of the start area. 2. Exhale gratitude. 3. Be present in the moment. 4. Conserve…

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Parc del Segre, La Seu d’Urgell, Catalunya (Joe Jacobi photo, Winter, 2021)

Imagine that our objective is to successfully navigate a challenging problem in our “river of life.” It is as if all of the river’s current seems to flow directly into a giant rock that obstructs our river.

Let’s also imagine that we have some time to formulate an approach to navigate this demanding section of river… and our rock.

Conventional wisdom quickly turns our attention to our best attributes — our superpowers — that could help us conquer this problem. These could include responding with speed, strength, or confidence.

While immediately confronting chaos before the rock with our superpowers is…

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Parc del Segre, La Seu d’Urgell, Catalunya (Joe Jacobi photo)

Much of my summer as a 21 year-old was spent traveling from river to river throughout Europe. In this case, not just to paddle a river, but to join the best canoeing athletes in the world to race in the top whitewater canoe slalom competitions every weekend.

The weekly routine was simple yet a little dirt-baggish. Each of us lived frugally out of a duffel bag and were always adjusting to new and different environments, on the water as well as off.

With our sport’s base and popularity anchored in Europe, my European competitors often had the luxury of passing…

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Riu Segre, La Seu d’Urgell, Catalunya (Joe Jacobi photo)

The journey down a river challenges one’s comfort level. From the gear to the natural elements to the remote locations in which the activity takes place, paddling a river offers us a beautiful and unexpected perspective of the world. But such a journey is not likely to top the list of a comfort-seeker.

However, in my four-plus decades on and around rivers, the pursuit of more comfort on the water has been an ongoing work-in-progress. Accessories and gear with more storage to carry more things. Or more gadgets to process more information, detail more metrics, or capture more images.


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Riu Segre, La Seu d’Urgell Catalunya (Joe Jacobi photo, January, 2021)

The learning curve of a paddler is steep. And slow.

In the beginning stages, it is not uncommon to feel one or all of the following:

Lack of control
Limited orientation
Uncomfortably bound to your kayak

Like embarking upon any challenging activity, paddlesports has a few important elements of your boat, the water, and safety to understand before pushing away from the shore.

But, the initiation of becoming a paddler and navigating rivers is less about words and “how to’s.” It is much more experiential. An important part of a paddler’s development happens through error, discomfort, and repetition. …

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Parc del Segre, La Seu d’Urgell, Catalunya (Joe Jacobi photo, Winter, 2020)

On August 1st, 1992, two separate alarms on my night table start buzzing at 4:45 am. Two alarms… just to be sure.

It’s quiet at this hour in the satellite Olympic Village in La Seu d’Urgell, about two and half hours north of the main Olympic Village in Barcelona.

What started next was the “warm up” routine that my doubles canoe partner, Scott Strausbaugh, and I had been planning and rehearsing for months. This warm-up would lead us into the first of our two competition runs at the Olympic Games… at exactly 10:17 am.

Shortly after waking up, I did…

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Parc del Segre, La Seu d’Urgell Catalunya (Joe Jacobi photo, December, 2020)

I had never experienced uncontrollably shaking legs like this before.

Before paddling a challenging river for the first time, I try move myself into a good headspace for what’s ahead. While preparing for North Georgia’s Tallulah Gorge, I had not considered the descent to the river’s launch point, or as we say, the “Put-in.”

Beautiful steps built into the mountainside lead far down to the canyon’s bottom point… I just didn’t realize how many steps… while carrying a heavy kayak and gear. …

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Montferrer i Castellbò, Catalunya (Photo by Joe Jacobi, December, 2020)

“Estic content.”

Sometimes, as Catalan words roll off of my tongue, I process the syllables and sounds of this challenging language through the system of my American English brain. Although this particular phrase translates to “I am happy,” why is it is that the filtered sound of the word, “content,” challenges me?

Is it that if I am content, then I am not moving? Not optimizing? Not being productive nor efficient?

More than three years into this Catalan life experiment, “estic content” is a gift. Making peace with this phrase requires frequent unwrapping but once we do, we are present.

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Sant Joan de l’Erm, Catalunya, December, 2020 (photo by Joe Jacobi)

At first sight, these words — the best investment you can make — are so alluring.

Then, they infuse doubt — as if you are not doing things correctly. Or not doing enough.

Often, these words, or a close derivative, are pushed out from the producer who appears to know the secrets to life.

“If you just do this…” everything will be better.

But, how could they know what you need? Or want?

Let’s start with what they do not know:

Your story
Your outlook
Your experience
Your unique talent

Could it be that their words, “the best investment you…

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La Seu d’Urgell, Catalunya, December, 2020 (Photo by Joe Jacobi)

When is it too late to begin again?

There is not one correct way to answer this question. Different experiences and perspectives yield very different choices.

Recently, a few individuals independently showed me brilliant ideas that they developed. These are not just “some day” ideas. These are “up and running” entities validated with resources invested and clients served. In one case, the concept saves lives.

And in each of our conversations, the idea-creator referenced age as a looming obstacle to future success. We spoke about limited time, capacity, and opportunity.

For the past six years, Sunday mornings open exchanges with…

Joe Jacobi

Olympic Gold Medalist & Performance Coach helping leaders & teams perform their best without compromising their lives.

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