Let me just say at the start that I’ve never surfed. Not once. Haven’t even tried. I think the sight of an accomplished surfer riding a wave into shore is beautiful and I love watching surfers anytime I have the opportunity. But try it myself? I’m not sure I could even pull myself up onto the board, let alone ride a wave. (Note to self, time to schedule some time at the gym.) I do not in any way feel this disqualifies me from using surfing as an analogy, though. That’s what I have an imagination for, right, to fill in the blanks where I lack direct experience?
I’m convinced that much of life can be compared to surfing (or, obviously, what I imagine surfing to be like). I’ve heard people talk about trying to find balance in life like it’s something you can find the secret to, apply it once and you’re done. I’ve seen so many on-line tools and self-help books suggesting that if I will only use their product or follow their system, I’ll be able to slice up my life in the correct ratios and “have it all.” Whether it’s finding the right formula to determine how much time and energy to invest in work versus my significant relationships, or determining how to carve out enough time and energy to stay physically and emotionally healthy while keeping up with all my other responsibilities, there’s a sense of needing to find the perfect solution that will keep life in balance….as though life isn’t fluid and constantly changing.
I believe surfing is a great example of how to approach balance in life. Sure, you scramble on top of the surfboard and establish your stance, but it doesn’t stop there. As you continue to ride the wave, you are making tons of small adjustments to maintain that balance because the board is riding something that’s continually moving and you have to respond in kind. I think those ongoing adjustments are so important, even though there are many days when I resist them. My internal recovering perfectionist would much prefer discovering the right formula, hitting on the miracle solution, finding the answer, and then continue applying the same steps over and over….you know, lather, rinse, repeat. Little chance for making mistakes. But focusing on avoiding mistakes isn’t living life fully. In surfing as in life, falling off the board is integral to gaining wisdom, which means I have to learn how to get back up and try again with the next wave.
Have you noticed that surfers don’t try and ride every wave? They seem to spend a lot of time sitting on their boards watching the incoming waves, reading the movement of the water, and determining where they have the best opportunity to catch a ride to shore. It seems to me that in life as in surfing, to a certain extent you’re going to go where the water takes you. It’s not that I can’t go where I’d like, it’s just going to take more work and require a lot of skill to hit a destination the water isn’t aiming at. I hone my abilities so I can do a better job of recognizing which waves to try and catch.
For years I worked for others. My priorities and schedule were greatly driven by the goals and needs of my employer and my congregation. For the last few years, really for the first time in my life, my priorities and schedule are almost solely up to me. I’m surfing in a completely different ocean, to continue the analogy, and I’m still figuring out the wave pattern here. Add to that, my capacity for “embracing change optimistically” (to borrow vocabulary from my old corporate environment) has been diminished in recent years. This could have something to do with marrying in my late 40s then leaving my careers and everything familiar to me to move to another country where I really didn’t know anyone other than my husband….something of a feast of change, you might say. I find I’m still having to work harder at feeling positive about “getting back up on the board” when my inability to make adjustments quickly enough and read the water accurately enough has tossed me overboard….again. So these days I’m being purposeful about noticing the beauty in life as I sit on my board waiting for the next wave. I’m speaking the truth to myself that no one is intended to ride all the waves at once so when I miss some of the waves, I haven’t failed. I’m nurturing the memory of how wonderful it felt when I rode waves into shore in the past, reminding myself that I am capable of making balance adjustments. And I’m encouraging myself with the promise that another wave is coming as surely as the moon rises and sets.
Photo credit – Alain Bachellier