This I Believe

Stephen G. - Evansville, Indiana
Entered on October 16, 2008
Themes: change

This I believe: Living in “permanent

white water� is part of our lives. That

to deny it or think that it will be diminished with age is unrealistic.

Peter Vaill developed the notion of permanent white water in his book Learning as a Way of Being: Strategies for Survival in a World of Permanent White Water published by Jossey-Bass in 1996. Vaill says permanent white water is living a life that exercises wisdom, which does not necessarily derive from certain principles or procedures, but rather is exercised in the moment—out of experience, feeling, conviction and determination. Leaders must roll with the punches and throw away the script. White water events are characterized by being full of surprises, novel, messy, ill-structured, costly, obtrusive, and recurring. There is no standard operating procedure to turn to for guidance; in other words, permanent life outside one’s comfort zone.

Professor Eric Dent of George Washington University has taken Vaill’s concept expanding it more fully than only leadership, which I like a lot because it can become a way of looking at life.

I imagine every one of us lives in white water or experiences it at times during our life journey. I think this because every time I use this phrase or concept in one-on-one conversations or speeches, it resonates with people. So, I generalize to the whole population, because this is my essay!

Early memories in grade school had “white waterâ€? though I didn’t have enough experience or the term to identify it, and activities every week in my work provide constant “permanent white water.â€? So I know that at age 61 it’s still there. I have found it helpful to own up to this phenomenon and actually anticipate “permanent white waterâ€? knowing that it will be short-lived—so you adjust knowing that it will be over soon and that it is a part of life. I’ve discussed this concept with my daughters, and who knows, maybe it’s been helpful. I found it so.