Grim's Tales: What's your Rivanna River?

Even Thomas Jefferson wasn't immune to feeling morose, but we can learn from him

The Rivanna River is a 42.1-mile-long tributary of the James River in central Virginia in the United States.
Photo illustration /

Sometimes it can be difficult to feel worthy or accomplished or valuable in life.

It's a fate that all of us can face when we have days where we feel low and suddenly can't see a reason to feel good about ourselves even in spite of our own accolades or even our faith.

We are in good company though. Even world changers get the doldrums, and sometimes caused by this very same feeling.

Read more of 'Grim's Tales'

Thomas Jefferson was one such world changer. Jefferson oversaw the Louisiana Purchase, successfully cut the national debt significantly, abolished the trading of slaves and oversaw successful and historically significant wars.

Yet Jefferson had at least one apparent day where he looked back and felt like he was worth less than nothing, and we can learn from what he did.


According to a broadcast by Paul Harvey Jr., Jefferson made a list of his life accomplishments.

You might think the feats mentioned above were on that list, and it's likely they were there somewhere, but at the place of honor as the first item at the top of the list was an accomplishment you might never have guessed — the clearing of the Rivanna River.

Young Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826).
Photo illustration /

At age 22, when Jefferson was merely a farmer, the river was a tiny stream and tributary to the larger James River where his neighboring farmers would transport, by land, their tobacco for shipment.

If the Rivanna was navigable, it could save the farmers time and effort in transporting their goods. But the river was choked by rocks and downed trees.

Jefferson took it into his own hands by launching a canoe and making a plan. Only one area was so significantly choked that it would need to be cleared.

He sought help from a friend in the legislature and got funding to make the clearing possible. With work and determination, he turned the tiny stream into a valuable water trail for commerce.

There's a lot to learn from this experience:

  • Even the larger than life can feel small: Jefferson's list of accomplishments is in the presidential National Archives where it is still able to be viewed because it was written during his presidency, which seems to be a proof of accomplishment all on its own. 
    Chances are, you aren't president. So don't let feeling bad make you feel even worse.
  • Even a hard challenge may be made small with planning: No doubt when Jefferson looked at the river he saw a project that might extend its entire length and prove impossible. But that changed when he set out in his canoe and suddenly the insurmountable seemed achievable.
  • Don't be afraid to seek help: Jefferson didn't accomplish his goal alone. He got help first from a friend, then through the legislature he received the support of his state, and that led to his ultimate success.
  • A job cannot finish until after it has started: Jefferson didn't wait for the perfect time or expect someone else to tackle the project in his place. He took his own canoe onto the river to make the initial plan and he personally sought to sell documents to help fund the legislature's bill. 
    He even contributed to the work of clearing the river itself. Sometimes we have to do so as well.
  • Don't be fooled into simply resting on your laurels: Even being president wasn't enough to overwhelm Jefferson's sense of humility. He had accomplished many things, but he continued to accomplish more throughout his presidency and afterward.
  • Sometimes we just need to recalibrate: When you are feeling down, sometimes we feel the need to wait for the feeling to pass. Sometimes it might not feel like it ever will. 
    It can help to do something to recalibrate our feelings and thoughts. For Jefferson, this one time, that was making a list of things to be proud of, and that might work.
    Talking to supportive friends might do that for others, as might looking at photos of loved ones or even just taking a nap or doing things we enjoy.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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