Thursday, September 8, 2022

Life is Like Kayaking

Life is a lot like Kayaking.

We went on another kayak trip today, almost all the way to the Bong bridge. Duluth is very industrial and there are many "canals" which are artificial inlets made by dredging out a channel, back in the days before the EPA and environmental impact statements.

There are a number of industries along the water.  One apparently involves making smaller rocks out of bigger rocks, and boy is it noisy!  But there were bucolic sights as well - a convocation of American Bald Eagles, all perched in a dead tree - waiting for a meal to steal.

As usual, we head upstream or upwind and then paddle until we are spent, and then open our picnic lunch and a beverage and let the current or wind push us back to where we started.  I thought about it, and it is a apt metaphor for life.

When you are young, you can work hard and try to put away some money.  Like paddling into the wind or current, it is hard work and you have to go at it constantly.  And your progress seems painfully slow, too!  But over time, you make progress, and pretty soon, you've traveled quite a way.  And in your old age, you can now afford to "coast" your way back to zero, using the accumulated "upstream" efforts of your youth.

However (if I may torture the metaphor further) some folks - including myself - spend their youth drifting downstream - or even aggressively paddling in that direction.  It's a fun ride, with little effort, but once downstream (or downwind) eventually you realize you have to get back - and having expended all your energy on having fun ride, now are exhausted at a time when you need your energy most.

Some folks do just this - a lot of them, in fact.  They spend their youth borrowing money to have "things" (including worthless college educations) and then start out life far, far downstream.  It was a fun ride - for a few years.  You got a cool car and played at being an academic.  But now the reality of hard paddling sets in.  Where's my bailout?  Can't someone just tow me back to where I started - or even further upstream?

It is a nice dream, but odds are, fantastic plans for "free college" and "free apartments" and "guaranteed jobs" or "guaranteed annual income" are not going to materialize,or if they do, in a manner that is of no use to you.  $10,000 in loan forgiveness sounds swell, unless like me, you foolishly paid off your loans over an achingly long time.

If I may utterly abuse this metaphor further, there are situations where we paddle upwind, only to find the wind has changed 180 degrees against us. We have to fight a headwind both ways.  It isn't fair, but then again, there isn't much you can do about it but paddle.  The Coast Guard isn't going to tow us in, just because we're "tired" or something.

And in other cases - rare ones - we paddle downwind and then find the wind has again changed direction in our favor, blowing us back to our point of origin with little or no effort on our part, either way.  Sometimes you get lucky.  Don't count on it, though.

Or sometimes luck is made for you.  If you come from money, your parents can hire a company to transport your kayak and gear upstream several miles, and all you have to do is ride the current down and enjoy the ride - no effort.  Yes, it is good to be born to wealth, provided you don't squander even that.

Life isn't fair, to be sure.  Some folks end up paddling all their lives.  Others get lucky or get a free ride.  But many more squander their youth drifting aimlessly downstream, enjoying the ride but not thinking about how far they've gone and how much effort it will be to paddle back.  In fact, a lot of the people who claim to be victims of "bad luck" are in fact, victims of their own malfeasance.

Sure, student loans are a scam.  But it is a scam that has been screaming from the headlines for the last decade or more.  What excuse does any student have, in the last five years, to take out onerous loans for stupid degrees?  It isn't like this was a State Secret in Trump's vault or something.  We all know about this.  And of course, how will this work going forward?  How many 18-year-olds today are down at the Bursar's Office, signing loan documents for their "Poly Sci" degree, telling their classmates, "Well, they forgave loans once, for sure they'll do it again by the time I graduate!" -  and so expectations are set.

I am enjoying the ride back, with the wind behind me and the current pulling me along.  After years of paddling (after a false start drifting downstream), we can afford to coast now. Some say this is unfair - that others have it harder and should also get a "free ride" as well.  But on the other hand, maybe they didn't paddle very hard - or at all - when they had the chance.  They just drifted in life and took the easy way and now are in a world of woe, downstream.  Whose fault is that?  And should the hard work I did be negated to save them?

Questions I have, answers few.

But I think the analogy is apt.  In your early years, you have all this energy and while it doesn't seem like you are getting anywhere at first, a decade goes by and pretty soon you've logged some pretty serious miles.  It beats the hell out of trying to "catch up" later in life, with the wind and current not in your favor.

And for most of us, life is like this - we have no choice.  The idea that somehow everything could be made "free" and no one would have to work, ever, is flawed.  Life just isn't that simple.  Easy answers are the wrong answers.

The odds of the government deciding that everyone should get paid for doing nothing and that everything in life should be free, are long indeed.  Counting on this is a foolish bet.

Better off paddling!