Three For Thursday – Risa Shimoda



Lessons Of The River

Any time someone is a member of an actual Hall of Fame, that’s pretty darn cool. Risa is one of those people, as she is enshrined in the International Whitewater Hall of Fame as a world-class whitewater kayaker, with a number of firsts and other records to her name.  Risa and I go back to a shared childhood in the New York City suburb of Dumont, NJ. Nothing in our upbringings even remotely related to water, no less whitewater or kayaking, yet Risa has been not only a great participant in that field, but an incredible advocate for river stewardship as well. Risa’s Three For Thursday follow.

Show Up
When I began my career at Procter and Gamble, I got some advice to show up, listen and take responsibility. The advice resonated, because it’s something that I am fortunate enough to do naturally. But, because of my penchant for living so fully, I sometimes overdo it, show up too much and need to rein myself in.

This comes from my DNA. Both of my parents were really strong in the face of adversity and the need to change course, often with no options. They addressed the realities thrust upon them with determination and pragmatism. As a result, I’ve been opportunistic and always willing to try something new. I majored in product design engineering at Stanford, which taught me to appreciate the process of solving problems. As needs change, you need to update the product and be open to the ‘next’ update.

Know where you come from
I think of my late father often, as his journey instructs mine. He grew up aspiring to be an accomplished photographer and when WWII broke out, he had just opened a photography studio. US officials were fearful of all Japanese who might be in detrimental touch with the enemy, and my dad’s activities were of particular interest because of his profession. While he escaped the initial mass relocation of Japanese Americans, he had to deal with being arrested, jailed and harassed by the FBI during WWII and for ten years after it ended.

Instead of bemoaning his circumstances, my dad told us kids stories about the wonderful people he met along the way, including his host family members in Blanding, Utah, and the security guards at Ft. Missoula! Ridiculous experiences that might have plagued others did not deter him from moving forward, honing his craft, building a career, and loving his family.

It’s really important, in all facets of life, to establish that you are present. I’m often in a conversation with someone who leaves thinking I’m extremely nice and insightful. Meantime, they’ve done absolutely all the talking! Knowing where people are coming from is very important. Listening to others and actually hearing them, understanding their perspectives, is an important skill for everyone, but especially for leaders who want to be both effective and enjoyable to be around.

One for the Road
Kayaking is my “one for the road.” When I was introduced to kayaking, I immediately fell in love with both the people involved and the nature of the sport. In kayaking, you’re always making decisions the same way my parents did: you need to make good decisions, one after another, to navigate the current; and the river changes every day, with its varying flows, weather, and the people in your group on a given day. I enjoy being a problem solver, and I view kayaking skills as more akin to the skills needed to complete a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle than those needed to complete a difficult sporting event. Pretty much all of my work and much of my volunteer time is related to the whitewater community. While some might view this as me “giving back,” I love it so much that I don’t feel that way at all.

How About You?
What are your Three For Thursday? I’m looking for people who are willing to share their life wisdom.  Please email me at if you’d like to be interviewed for a future Three For Thursday blog.