River Mode and Graduation

When my friend Jamie and I did our recent fishing trip on a long weekend, we talked about River Mode.

The night before our trip, my mind eased into River Mode, a relaxed-and-anticipatory frame of mind. Work, chores, and family obligations faded, and I began to obsess about river flows, water temp, and fly selection.

As I threw fly-fishing clothes into a bag and loaded the car with gear, I was excited. There are few better feelings for me than the eve of a fishing trip, when I know I can cherry-pick runs and glides and take my time.

During River Mode, shaving is not necessary, and showering isn’t a priority. River Mode involves flip flops, shorts, a camo baseball cap, and thick, juicy cheeseburgers as soon as I can get them.

River Mode means playing old U2, The Cure, Taylor Swift (she is a genius!), Country Western, New Order, REM, and The Smashing Pumpkins during the drives, as well as going through a backlog of podcasts. It means PB&J for lunch, Bourbon in the evenings, and the occasional f-bomb. With a fishing buddy, it means a lot of deep laughter, story telling, and snarky observations.

River Mode replaces Dad Mode: obligations that can be rewarding but feel perpetual, a long list of chores, and a near-constant concern for one’s children, hoping that they are OK.

River Mode means hoping for rising fish but feeling no stress, knowing that Euronymphing would produce eventually in a pinch. It means peace, real joy, and an anticipation of the most pleasant kind.

And, when it all can come together, when bugs are in the drift, and rises start as the dusk sky turns to a million shades of grey, black, pink, orange, and red, it feels that life is all and only good, no matter the concerns of the day or the sadness of the news headlines.

At the end of the semester, I give a “My Take” to my students. After a few months of hopefully building a culture of trust, high standards, and affinity, I delve into my childhood and the ensuing life lessons. They are my “last words” to them, as the disbanding of the class is incipient; they also are the final words I would communicate to my children and any grandchildren, if I can one day.

And, I wondered if my words landed with my students.

Truth be told, during my recent fishing trip, I thought a lot about my students during the inevitable lulls that occur on the river. In a few years, I’ve been fortunate to work with around 700 of them. In my mind, while I fished, there was a stream of their faces, both former students and current ones, like I was flipping through a photo album. I hoped that they are well.

HBS Commencement is on the horizon, and I will be there to share my students’ joy. Graduation is a true bookend in life, filled with mixed emotions, such as relief and grief altogether in an amalgamation that does not at all feel copacetic.

A mini-version is the end of a fishing trip, which can also feel mixed: a sense of accomplishment together with fatigue, a little sadness, and a brain re-activating with the concerns of everyday life.

But, it’s all good. All things come to an end at some point. And, then, there ensues plans for the next fishing trip, a new adventure.

Jamie was able to join me for part of my Montana sabbatical last summer. He took some glorious photos to capture its deep beauty. And, we fortunately roped in fish each and every day. All Montana river trout are wild, and that makes them even more special.

River Mode ends.

But, there will be future times for it, and I hope to have decades before my body or mind fail, and I can no longer fly fish. Similarly, I hope to teach at HBS for a long time and until I can no longer handle the physical or cognitive overload of the Case Method.

To my graduating students: see you at Commencement! As I mentioned during Bridges, it marks the beginning of the HBS experience and not the end: you’re just now commencing. River Mode may pause, but it will continue, if you choose it. I promise.

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