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December 18, 2005

I read through some of the “Fast 50” posts
that people made and there was quite a variety. Lee Hart asked me if I
wanted to file an entry with Fast Company’s 2005 Fast 50 reader
poll to select what the readers felt were the top 50 companies on the
fast track to success. In the entry, you answer the questions and the
goal is to put your best foot forward, which we did. Reading over it again,
it isn’t what someone wanting to be humble would write and send
to an audience of kayakers. There must have been three people who suggested
that my ego was a problem. I pondered over the negative posts to this
Fast 50 poll to see if I could learn something from it and something else
occurred to me. Generally speaking, I look for what is good in any situation
and go by the “if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t
say anything at all” concept. Since, as far as kayaking goes, I
am a fairly public figure, perhaps it appears that I don’t want
people to know when I goof up, and try to pretend it doesn’t happen.
Well, I am going to attempt to summarize my mistakes from the beginning,
as far back as I can remember (focusing on the bigger ones). In this,
you could get a more complete list of the last 18 years from my wife,
Kristine, who has the best memory of anyone I know. Luckily for me, most
of my mistakes I am comfortable with, knowing that they weren’t

Wow: now I actually have to think of them…

When I was little, I was a pyromaniac. My friend Todd,
and I would burn lots of things. We once put lighter fluid and sticks
in a ground hogs hole, and any of them we could find, and lit them. I
felt quite bad about that one. I got a bow and arrow when I was 6 and
I really wanted to hunt with it and actually killed a baby robin, which
took me at least 5 shots at close range to get it. It wasn’t fun
when I finally hit it. I got a B-B gun and tried to shot it into the opening
of the birdhouse I made. I can’t remember if there were birds in
it but I do remember my dad catching me and smashing my BB gun over a
pile of bricks, that was the end of that. Moving on…

When I was about 14 my friend Bill and I would take
my canoe to the lake in the middle of the night and paddle across it to
a construction site, load it up with plywood, etc. and paddle it to the
other side of the lake (woods) and unload it, and make a major tree house
out of the stolen wood. Never got caught and was at least 21 before I
felt bad about it.

I wasn’t bad in high school, but made a different
type of mistake. My parents didn’t drink and I was convinced that
anyone who drank was an alcoholic. This shortened my list of friends really
quick in high school. It was my freshman year of college before it occurred
to me that not having friends who drank was eliminating many potentially
good friends from the pool of kids to choose from. I finally relaxed my
position in college but not without missing out on Prom and many fun times
in high school. I didn’t ever have to drink, but I could have been
more tolerant of those who didn’t. In effect, I was quite prejudice
in high school.

My mother died when I was 18 in my sophomore year of
college and I turned my attention away from school. The first financial
mistake I made in my life was to go off of my save every penny made as
I had been in my whole life and think that I could spend money and more
would come. I made the USA “B” team for slalom and went to
Europe and spent $3000 that I borrowed from my dad’s credit union
and got home and had no way to pay it and then went back to school thinking
it would go away. It marked my financial situation from 1984-2002. The
next 18 years I was in MAJOR debt. I was self-sufficient most of the time,
and then would have to borrow money to go to the world cup, or world championships,
or the Olympics, for example and paying it back was impossible, it seemed.
I ruined my credit from 1986-2000 and had a 10 year old and a 7 year old
before I could get a credit card. I had never filed for taxes either,
figuring I was truly in poverty level and would qualify for welfare on
my income with my two kids. (many people considered it a huge mistake
for me to have kids when I was in such dire straights. I would never consider
that a mistake, and I don’t think they would either. ) Well, the
IRS doesn’t see things like that and are a little more systematic
about things. I had to file 1990-2000 taxes all at once, with an accountant
and it cost me $31,000 that I didn’t have. I would not have had
to pay a penny had I filed my taxes like I was supposed to. In this mistake,
I became a fanatic about keeping up with the details. If I can’t
do it, I will find someone who can. I have had an accountant since then,
even if I thought I could do it. It was 2002 when I finally paid off the

It is occurring to me that I can think of way more mistakes
than I have time to write! Many things with my racing and training, with
my kids, and I learned about money in a very non-traditional way.

In 1997 I was struggling in my marriage and I didn’t
think there was a solution to the problem which was that Kristine was
into the yuppie lifestyle of keeping up with the Joneses and I was a struggling
broke kayaker using my money to make her happy. Well, I figured she was
one way and that nothing was going to change that and I wanted nothing
to do with it. I gave up on our marriage. In a flash, it seemed, Kristine
came to me with what was truly important to her; our marriage and children,
and wouldn’t let me give up on her. I believed her, and immediately
our marriage was heaven again (after 7 awesome years, 2 deteriorating
years). It has been awesome ever since. However, if she had not been so
strong to set things right, I would have been the one to wreck the best
union of a man and a women I know of or have ever heard of. That was the
biggest mistake of my life, and I was SO lucky not to have to pay for
it. Kristine is a goddess.

More recently, I have made some hiring mistakes with
Jackson Kayak. I hired someone to be in charge of production that was
awesome. He just wasn’t hired for the right position, which was
my fault. In the end, I had to fire him because of how bad I screwed up
in the get go and it had deteriorated. That sucked for me and him.

In Jackson Kayak, I have made mistakes in implementation
of plans, often. Nothing terrible yet, thank goodness. The mistakes I
do make I have done everything I can to fix. My dad always said, “Eric,
you have to take 100% responsibility for every relationship in your life.
½ way never works.” I try to live by that motto with my customers
and dealers. If I can’t think of mistakes I have made with dealers
or customers, than I must be getting tired and need to wrap this up! Certainly,
there is one kind of mistake that was pointed out a few years back by
Jeremy Stock in MD. She said that I tend to tell people what my goals
are, and that it makes it impossible for anyone to get excited about any
accomplishment I might have, because they are always stretch goals and
I usually fall short of them. “ The Fast 50 readers poll is like
that. Who wants to hear that I want to be the number one whitewater brand
by 2007? Well, if I got to the number 2 brand by 2007, I would appear
a failure by those who read my goal and remembered it. I would know I
did in fact fall short, but Jeremy’s whole point was, don’t
claim you are going to do anything, just do it and people will be more
impressed. The jury is still out on that one for me, any thoughts? Anyone
that prefers another brand, or anyone who works for any other brand isn’t
going to like me saying in a public forum that I am going to pull ahead
of their company. A few people may admire the drive to be number one in
your chosen area, but I think for many more, it seems like a goal that
isn’t healthy or that the only way to achieve such a goal is to
compromise your integrity. Well, I can promise you that the method I intend
to pursue the number one position is by doing the best by the customer
and dealer. If I ever do anything that seems to be less than honorable
in any way, please call me on it.

What kind of mistakes will I make in the future? If
I knew, perhaps I won’t make them. I am pretty sure I won’t
miss out on life from spending too much time in bed, but while I burn
out or get stressed out or something? I don’t think so, which would
be why I don’t mind having so much on my plate. But what if I am
burning the candle at both ends? I guess, I will have to get an ulcer
or something like that to learn that lesson, so we’ll know eventually.
I seem to be very healthy for 41, certainly don’t have any issue
keeping up with the younger generation. I am out of speculations….

If I didn’t list your favorite EJ mistake, it
is either because I am skimming and didn’t bother, because I forgot
about it, or because I didn’t think it was a mistake. Either way,
my next post on Jackson will be something good going on, if
that is OK.

🙂 EJ