What My Surfing Lesson Actually Taught Me

I surfed! I actually did it! I was nervous and afraid, yet I got myself to the beach and into the water and on that board. And I fell, and I fell, and I fell … in an hour, I was able to get up about four times, and stayed up long enough to ride to shore twice. I probably tried to get up 50 times, so my success rate was pretty low, percentage-wise. But man, did I feel successful afterwards!

Remember how I said the waves here aren’t very big? Well, of course, on that day they were. They were higher than usual, and more haphazard. My instructor apologized in advance for the less-than-optimal conditions. She had just finished running the kids’ surf camp for the day and said it had been pretty nerve-wracking. So, I lowered my already-low expectations. I’d hoped to get up at least once; now I decided that if I didn’t, I would try again another day.

I have to admit, part of me was glad the conditions were rough. My small self thought, “Sweet, now I have an excuse if I totally suck! I can blame the weather.” And after my first fall, an epic sideways collapse that took me deep under and sent saltwater rushing through my sinuses, she thought, “We can always say it’s too rough and go home now!” But I admonished her and explained that I was going to keep trying unless my instructor told me to stop. It wasn’t like the swells were ten feet high; I mean, this isn’t Hawaii or Australia or anything. They just weren’t beginner-friendly.

So I got back on the board (which thankfully was foam, so I wasn’t worried about braining myself and ending up in the hospital—well, OK, I was still worried about ending up in the hospital, but the actual risk was lessened) and I tried again. And again and again … over and over I tried to get up and fell immediately. I’m not a big swimmer, and when we go to the beach I may cool off in the ocean, but I don’t usually spend much time in the water. This was up close and personal with saltwater. In my eyes, up my nose, down my throat…after every fall I was hawking and spitting like a ball player. It stung and burned and I felt vaguely nauseated. But still I persisted!

I was amazed at how physically tiring it was. I know, I should have expected that, but I guess I didn’t realize how much effort it takes to push the board out through the waves, then get on, then try to get up, then fall and flail around—and repeat and repeat. I began to worry that I would wear out before the hour was up—how embarrassing that would be! So I told myself it wasn’t an option, did some deep breathing, prayed for help, and kept going.

Part of it was pride. My instructor was in her mid-twenties, was a soccer player, and had been surfing for 10 years. This 40-something non-athlete wasn’t going to show weakness in front of her, and I wasn’t going to quit if I could help it. And part of it was determination. I had been wanting to do this for so long; I was finally out there, and I was damned if it was going to be a bust. I wanted to be able to say I gave it my all.

Finally, I managed to stay up and ride for a few seconds. It was glorious! I was so proud. (And I think my instructor was very relieved.) I was able to do it again, and rode almost all the way to shore before the wave gave out. It felt incredible—I had time to think about what I was doing, and when I almost lost balance I willed myself to stay upright. That was my shining moment. I was able to get up a couple more times, but the waves petered out quickly so the rides weren’t as long.

When the hour was over, I was tired but triumphant. I sat on the sand and guzzled water, catching my breath and watching those waves. I realized that I had once again shown myself that I am much stronger than I give myself credit for. I have more stamina—both mentally and physically—than I think. I tend to forget that, and doubt my own power. I may never surf again—or I might, who knows—but I will always treasure that feeling of triumph and that reminder.

So, here’s my takeaway: first, it feels amazing to accomplish something you’ve been dreaming of, especially if it turns out to be harder than you imagined and pushes you physically and mentally. Second, it’s always rewarding to break through fear and insecurity to try something new. Even if I had never gotten up on that board, I would have been proud of myself for trying. (Whether or not I would have tried again, we will never know. ;-) )

But to succeed—that really did boost my self-esteem. I feel stronger, more adventurous, and more confident. And as we get older, those feelings don’t come as easily. If we want to continue to grow and live a rich and joyful life, we have to consciously cultivate them.

That’s one of the reasons I decided to try something new every month this year, and I highly recommend it. It doesn’t matter what we want to do. What matters is pushing past our fear or anxiety, going outside our usual bubble of comfort, and feeling that gleeful oomph of “I did it!”

Success is not found in how we do it, but rather in that we try. Just the act of stepping out onto the limb—of striving for the branch just beyond our reach even though we’re scared—gets us out of our rut. Regularly challenging ourselves and experiencing new things keeps us engaged and enthusiastic. So now my challenge is—what in the world shall I try in July??

The Joy of Novelty

I watched “Breakfast at Tiffany's” again recently. (I love that movie!) This time, I was struck by the part when Paul sells his story and Holly says, “We should celebrate! I think there's a bottle of champagne in the icebox; you open it and I'll get dressed.” He says (while opening the bottle) that he's never had champagne before breakfast before, and she says they should spend the day taking turns doing things they've never done. She takes him to Tiffany's; he takes her to the public library; she takes him shoplifting! I thought, what a wonderful idea! Not the shoplifting—but to spend an entire day doing new things. Doesn’t it sound invigorating and adventurous?

Of course in New York City it would be easy to fill the day with new activities, but in a smaller town, is it more difficult? You might have to try a little harder, but I think it’s possible. There are plenty of places here that I've never been. I bet we all have those spots we drive by and think, "one day I'm going to check that out,” but we’re always too busy, and then we forget.

Now, an entire day might be asking a little much in my current world—and probably in yours too—but we could certainly take an occasional morning or afternoon to have one or two new experiences. Hmmm … I just tried to make a list and I could only come up with three things. Wow, I am definitely stuck in my old habits! There are probably dozens of activities I haven't tried and places I haven’t visited around here, yet I can only think of three.

When you're in a rut, it's hard to turn the wheel and get out. That's why I love traveling--new places force us to do things differently and expose us to fresh experiences, which inspire growth and novel ideas. Keri Wilt, author of the beautiful blog FHB&Me, just wrote a post about that very thing. She related how her young son would make huge leaps in development whenever they would take a trip. She says, "Despite all of my encouraging and nurturing at home, it was only when he left our home base, that he grew and changed by leaps and bounds. Now, I am not discounting what he learned at home, but I made a mental note at the time about the power that new people, views, and experiences can do for a developing mind. And guess what? It's true for my developing mind too! Yes, my 43 year old mind is still changing and learning and growing. And just like my son, when I confine myself to living the same days over and over again: wake up, breakfast, work, lunch, home, tv, dinner, bed...I get stuck and my growth slows to a crawl."

Yes! She hits the nail on the head. Novelty is good for us. It wakes us up, stretches our mind, gives us a different vantage point from which to examine our lives. It opens us to new possibilities. Research shows that learning new things keeps our brain changing and growing as we age, and can help prevent cognitive decline. So not only is it fun, it's beneficial to our health.

My husband and I try to have a date night every week. We’re in a rut on this too, usually heading to our favorite bar for cocktails and then to dinner. Recently, we shook it up a little by trying a new restaurant. It was amazing—incredible ambience, excellent service, to-die-for food. We felt like we were in a different city altogether. It was so much more memorable and fun than going to the same old place.

Last year I read the book “The 52 Weeks: Two Women and Their Quest to Get Unstuck, with Stories and Ideas to Jumpstart Your Year of Discovery” by Karen Amster-Young and Pam Godwin. It was a fascinating read. These two 40-something friends felt like they had lost momentum in their lives. They were griping to each other over drinks, and came up with a plan to “face our fears, rediscover our interests, try new things, and renew our relationships” by doing something different each week for a year. They started a blog to chronicle their year and ended up publishing the book—how’s that for shaking up your life? After I read it, I was quite inspired. But the thought of trying to do something EVERY WEEK was a bit overwhelming, I admit. So I adjusted that to every month—which still felt a little intimidating, but much more manageable—and decided I would start in January of this year.

So far, here’s what I’ve done:

·         January: took piano lessons for the first time

·         February: made marbled paper on my own and taught a friend how to do it at our first “art party”

·         March: performed a song on piano, in a band, at a showcase—in front of actual people! (Eeeek! I was terrified but I did it!)

·         April: started writing my first book

·         May: launched this blog!

Each of these took me out of my comfort zone, and everything except the art in February scared me silly! But I find that I’m now feeling more excited, engaged, and energized than I have in years.

For June, I’m REALLY stretching my boundaries. I’ve got a surfing lesson scheduled this afternoon! I have never tried to surf and am not particularly athletic; luckily, the waves here are not that big. Surfing is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, but I’ve always been too afraid of looking like a fool. I got tired of moving the Post-it note that said “book surfing lesson” from calendar to calendar year after year, so when I decided devote 2017 to new activities, I knew surfing would be one of them. I am both excited and anxious; I will let you know how it goes!

What have you always wanted to try? Which interesting spot in your hometown is crying to be checked out? I hope you get to have an adventure of your own soon, and that it brings you joy!