While watching a show on television, I marveled at these courageous men and women who woke before dawn, endured freezing water, paddled through barreling waves, and even risked shark attacks, all for the sake of, maybe, catching an epic ride. After few minutes, it was easy to tell the surfers apart by their style of surfing, their handling of the board, their skill, and their playfulness.
What really struck me though, was what they had in common. No matter how good, how experienced, how graceful they were on the wave, every surfer ended their ride in precisely the same way: By falling.
Some had fun with their fall, while others tried desperately to avoid it. And not all falls were failures — some fell into the water only when their wave fizzled and their ride ended. But here’s what I found most interesting: The only difference between a failure and a fizzle was the element of surprise. In all cases, the surfer ends up in the water. There’s no other possible way to wrap up a ride.
That got me thinking: What if we all lived life-like a surfer on a wave? The answer that kept coming to me was that we would take more risks.
~That difficult conversation with your boss (or employee, or colleague, or partner, or spouse) that we have been avoiding? We should initiate it.
~That proposal (or article, or book, or email) we have been putting off? We should start it.
~That new business (or product, or sales strategy, or investment) we have been over-analyzing? We should follow through.
And when we fell — because if we take risks, we will fall — we would get back on the board and paddle back into the surf. That’s what every single one of the surfers do, right? So why don’t we live life that way? Why don’t we accept falling — even if it’s a failure — as part of the ride?
Because we’re afraid of feeling. Think about it: In all those situations, our greatest fear is that we will feel something unpleasant.
~ The feeling of hurt if we have that scary conversation we have been avoiding and it ends the relationship.
~ The terrible feeling if we follow through on the business idea and lose money.
~ The feeling of awfulness if we submitted the proposal and were rejected.
Here’s the thing: More often than not, our fear doesn’t help us avoid the feelings; it simply subjects us to them for an agonizingly long time. We feel the suffering of procrastination or the frustration of a stuck relationship. I know relationships or partnerships that drag along painfully for years because no one is willing to speak about the elephant in the room. Taking risks and falling is not something to avoid. It’s something to cultivate.
Soon, we won’t have fear feeling. We will pursue it like those courageous early morning surfers. We will wake up before dawn and dive into those difficult conversations and difficult tasks. We will take the risks that once scared us. And we will fall; sometimes we will even fail. Then we will get up and do it again…
Because feeling is what tells us we are alive.