There is nothing like a day on the river by yourself. I explored the Taylor River on a sun-filled day with no one else around. Not too far from Crested Butte, Colorado, the Taylor stretches through the Gunnison National Forest with several areas that can be waded.


     With my fly rod in hand and gear in my pack, I set out to discover all that I could about a two-mile stretch during the day that I had to myself. Cellular service did not reach, so I was disconnected from the rest of the world for the day and was excited about the time on my own.


     After tying on the tippet and flies that the local fly shop had recommended, I set out into the river. Wading upstream, I slowly scoped out flow edges and drifts that I knew could be holding trout. After an hour or so with moderate success, I noticed that the sun was getting higher, and I decided to climb up on a boulder and reassess my strategy.


     It was the first time that morning that I had realized how startling it felt to be without others and without connection to the outside world. It was strange and freeing, and I noticed how present it allowed me to be in that beautiful river valley. I was taking in all of the small details offered by the sounds of the moving water, the tactile experience of catching each trout, the gentle upstream breeze and the smells of the plush valley. It was both peaceful and energizing.


     As many of us do when we have the chance to refuel and rest our spirits, it led me to realize that it is needed more often.


     To one degree or another, we all consistently seek to improve our lives, and it is challenging to keep in focus that we must strengthen ourselves first. The act of putting on our own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs might seem selfish, but that would be shortsighted. Improvement of self first should be so that we can then serve others. Just as building physical stamina allows us to go farther and do more, the building of strength in mind and spirit gives us a stronger base from which to serve and succeed.


     Self-improvement results from consistent effort over time. It requires self-examination and regulation by making micro adjustments as you go. The Roman philosopher Seneca said, “Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.”


     From that we can take away that discipline is necessary to not let self be unmanageable, and that by taking care of oneself we have the strength to do well in more areas of life. Those micro adjustments can look like a day on the river to reenergize. More practically, they can also look like devotional time in the mornings, physical exercise, reading, sending a text of encouragement, listening to motivational podcasts, or intentional pauses for prayer during the day.   


     One Goo Goo Dolls song lyric describes “empty things disguised as me.” In the craziness of the world around us, it is far too easy to have a life filled with habits rather than fulfillment and impact. The result is an unintended emptiness or a chronic dissatisfaction. By taking care of self, first spiritually in Christ and then also caring for mind and body, we will have so much more to offer our loved ones, friends, co-workers and fellow humans.


     The toughest parts of moving in that self-care direction are changing how we spend our energy and using grace to move down the right path. Flannery O’Connor said, “All human nature vigorously resists grace, because grace changes us and the change is painful.”


     All of this leads us to ask ourselves what needs to change in order to improve self so we can be of better service. Ultimately God provides the strength and direction if we go to Him. Be specific in your prayers, both for His guidance to be shown ways to improve yourself and for His strength to then go and do them. Part of Matthew 25:21 tells us, “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.”


     By faithfully preparing ourselves in mind, body and spirit, we can in turn impact others and reflect God. Find your path into you, then share your story and gifts into others.


Chris Bates is CEO and co-founder of AgoraEversole a full-service marketing agency in Jackson, and can be reached at He and his wife, Stacy, and their children live in Madison.