Summer days are hot in Georgia, and tubing is one of the few ways to enjoy nature and also stay cool. It’s a relaxing activity, and you can potentially navigate one three-hour river excursion while barely getting wet. Nevertheless, we left our cell phones in the car, bought the requisite paddle sticks, put on our water shoes, picked up our bright-pink tubes and walked down the path to the river. As our party of five settled into our tubes, I realized that I was going to be the odd woman out. My two youngest, twins, clipped their tubes, one to Daddy and one to their big sister. I was free from attachment, untethered to anyone. The idea of floating along all by my lonesome was thrilling.

As our journey began, I also realized that we didn’tI was going to be the odd woman out have enough paddle sticks. The sticks are used to help tubers navigate while staying on the tube when they are stuck. Stuck on a rock, use the stick to push off. Stuck too close to the brush, use the stick to propel closer to the center of the current. Careening toward a boulder, think fast and use the stick to slightly change your course.

So there I was alone in a tube with no stick. I was still fine, still feeling free. I had no children holding onto me and no stick to hold onto. As a mother of eight, I do not take for granted the small pleasure of a tube to myself. I would be grateful for the personal space and empty hands, and I had faith that I could do this.

Immediately, my husband and the child tethered to him mastered the stick, and they were floating down the center of the river, skillfully avoiding each protruding rock. We never heard or saw from them again until we exited the river, two-and-a-half hours later.

My teenage daughter and twin two also handled their stick with skill, and they, too, were drifting along quite nicely. I, on the other hand, became stuck almost immediately. Without a stick, I had to use my legs to push off obstacles and ended up covered in mud. Sometimes I would catch up to my daughters, sometimes I would be blissfully alone, and sometimes I would sail past them. In those moments, I closed my eyes and enjoyed the “peace and quiet.” In addition to the crickets and birds, I would overhear other families—moms yelling to children and grandparents wondering how the grandkids got so far ahead. Sometimes when I got stuck, someone would push me off the obstacle, and I would try to return the favor whenever I could.

I began to think of tubing as a metaphor for life: Life is like a ride downstream, and we are all on a journey together. Family, friends, strangers.

Here are six priceless lessons that I learned from my experience:

  1. For my real-life down-river journey, I was alone, without the most important tool for success: a stick. Yet somehow by learning how to navigate with my legs and arms, I found myself able to move along, sometimes even faster and more deftly than those who seemed more equipped. If you are not given the correct tools to deal with your present situation, then you have an opportunity to get creative and find new ones. Being resentful won’t propel you forward. Ingenuity is the silver lining to being ill-equipped. Not having the right tools forces you to think outside the box, which leads to success and self-confidence.
  2. Don’t ever be afraid, embarrassed or intimidated to ask for help. The silver lining to being vulnerable is that you need other people, and this creates a beautiful circle of helpfulness and community. I would have rather been on the giving end, to be sure, but receiving help from strangers was good for my soul to experience.
  3. When you hit a wall (as I did at either end of the bank and under the walkway bridge), face it and give it a good kick. You will not topple it; in fact, the sheer force of your strength and determination can propel you onto a new path that is filled with possibility.
  4. Some people get a lucky start in life and successfully navigate using the tools they are given. But what looks like ease and comfort is never the whole story. For example, my husband and child got a head start and were indeed doing well. Then a funny thing happened. Because it was so effortless, they ended up creating their own chaos. My husband agreed to untether my 7-year-old and allowed her to float on her tube alone. I didn’t witness their journey, but apparently towards the end, things got dicey when he, too, had to navigate stickless and also keep track of an untethered child.
  5. Challenges are what youChallenges are what you make of them make of them, and having a sense of humor can make almost any hardship bearable. As I floated ahead, beside and behind my daughters, they were greatly challenged at almost every turn, yet they skillfully used not only their stick to navigate but also their laughter. A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.
  6. My last thought as I left the river was that when we’re done tubing, we leave the tube behind, and the only thing we can take home with us is the quality of the experience. Isn’t this also like life? No matter how fast you are or how successful you get, no one can take the materialism as they “exit.” The only thing you take is the quality of how you lived your life—the purpose, the meaning, the goodness.

With my many obstacles while floating down the river, I thought of the Chassidic adage that says, “The world says that if you cannot crawl under an obstacle, try to leap over it. However, I say, leap over it in the first place!

With this in mind, I saw rocks and sticks protruding as I floated towards them, and instead of fighting and flailing, I lifted myself higher onto my tube and floated right over most of my obstacles. It was more efficient than I could have imagined. In real life, this is about courage, leadership and a “can do” attitude.

Hard work, vulnerability, humor, faith, community, care, creativity and positivity are some of the tools we use to journey through life. Thankfully, we don’t have to purchase them at any shop; the price to get most of them is simply awareness that they exist and exhibiting the ability to acquire them for yourself.