The Philosophy of Row the Boat
“Row the Boat” is a never-give-up mantra and an approach to life and work that anyone can adopt and implement. It’s a standard that says your life will not be defined by circumstances or events. When adversity hits you will not allow a situation or a person to discourage you or affect your way of life. Rather, with enthusiasm, inspiration, and optimism, you will create your way of life. Row the Boat is about being proactive, not reactive or perfect. Regardless of what happens, you have already decided that you are going to keep moving forward in a positive way.
This perspective separates the elite from the average in sports and in life. The way you handle one thing is the way you handle everything, and you must handle it at an elite level. If you want to be elite, you have to stay in the now and keep moving forward. The now matters. You can’t let your situations define you. With attitude and effort, you must define your situation.
Row the Boat is also a leadership approach that inspires and empowers the people in your boat to row with the same power, tempo, direction, and speed toward the vision you have for your team and organization. In tough times, row. In successful times, row. In times of uncertainty, row. In times of struggle, row. When the waves of life are stormy and dangerous and they rock your boat to the core, row. On days when the seas are calm and glisten with sunshine, row. In the end, why we row, how we row, and the way we row through all of it will dictate our path and determine how far we go.
Rowing is very different from paddling. When rowing a boat, your back is to the bow (the front of the boat), which represents the future. This means that as you are rowing, you can’t see what’s ahead of you in that very moment. None of us have any idea what the future holds for us. We don’t know what tomorrow or even the next moment brings. Life can change in a moment. The uncertainty is what defines life!
When you row the boat, you row in the present moment with your own oar, which is the only thing you can control right now! Making choices and decisions of how you handle and think about the now is a choice of one person: you. You are either rowing or you are not. You either quit in the now or you don’t. There is no in between. Don’t let the fear of the future or the pain from the past stop you from rowing toward your dreams.
When rowing, you are facing the stern (the back of the boat), which symbolizes the past. Your eyes see where you have already been. With every stroke, you see the horizon and what just happened. The only thing we should do with the past is learn from it. With every stroke, we grow. It’s not easy to let the past go, but doing so allows us to focus our energy on the present. After all, the next stroke is what needs our energy and attention.
This approach is life-changing. Learn from and embrace your past to create your future. Row in the present and be optimistic and hopeful. Know that the next stroke of the oar is what’s needed to overcome and conquer your challenges and create your future. Don’t let the sea dictate where you go. You decide, and you keep rowing. Learn from your past, row in the present, and prepare for whatever comes your way. The most important thing is to keep on rowing.
Responding to Adversity
“Life happens” applies equally to sports, business, and life. It’s how we respond to a circumstance that makes our organization and team who we are and determines where will be heading. The path to success will constantly be filled with peaks and valleys and everyone, without exception, will experience them.
You must remember that the dream is the journey, not the destination. Every hard day, every loss, every lost family member, every financial burden, every “no,” every divorce or breakup, every hardship is part of your journey on the way to achieve your dream and is meant to teach you how to handle success and failure. These tests help you build leather skin for the assignments in your life.
Just as not everyone looks at the journey and life the same way, not everyone will row the same way. Not every boat is the same, and the water is different depending on where you are in your journey. Some will row harder, and some will row in a different direction. Some will lose sight of their vision. One of the key elements of your journey is surrounding yourself with people who want to go to the same destination. Only by rowing together can we achieve our goals.
Each of us made daily choices to row or quit rowing. In challenging times we could either think of others with empathy or just think about ourselves and how it affected us. We could live a life of serving, giving, and learning or choose to ignore the lessons we were being presented with. We could choose to avoid discussing difficult topics, or we could have the difficult conversations we needed to have as a team and a society in order to learn and grow together.
Make Today Better
So where do we go from here? How does Row the Boat continue on the journey? Jim Tressel said “Don’t ever think you’re the only one who can do what you’re doing at the place you’re doing it at. We all have an expiration date. Leave it better than you found it. Nothing is guaranteed in college football or life. Be more than just football and wins.”
Always understand that you’re an influencer for only a short period in history. What will you be remembered for? What will be your legacy? Is it the wins, how you made people feel, the lives you changed, the moments and memories you created for others, or the hope you instilled in people—or maybe all of it?
Row the Boat each day and create the change you want to see. When you hit adversity, keep rowing. If you face a storm, keep rowing. When the winds are against you, keep rowing. There will always be a lot of reasons why you can’t do something. Find a way to be the reason why you can!