Failing at surfing
and trying to embrace it
Hola and welcome to Where on Planet Earth! In case you got here by accident and are not yet a subscriber, sign up below! For more visuals on our travels follow us on IG @whereonplanetearth
My writing muse has been gone for a bit. I haven’t felt inspired to write - or create in other ways - for a couple months. I am told this happens, it’s normal, don’t fret. But I wondered, why does this so-call-muse leave? and what makes her come back?
I reflected on this until a few days ago, when I got dragged and pounded on by a large wave while on my third official surfing lesson. It scared the shit out of me. I don’t think I would have been able to hold my breath longer than a few more seconds. The moment I breached the surface and took enough breaths to be able to speak, I looked at my instructor - who had also been dragged by the wave and was a few meters away from me - and yelled to him I wasn’t going to do this, “I am out!”.
Back on the shore we had a long discussion about overcoming fears, calming oneself in stressful situations, and learning to trust. He was trying to encourage and push me, but throughout it, all I could feel was shame, all I could think of was: what a failure this was, what a failure I was.
And at that exact time, I felt my muse returning. Shame brought her out from her hiding place. For the first time in a while, I wanted to write, both to try to understand why I am always so quick to judge and be hard on myself, and also because I knew this feeling must not be unique. As a society we fear failure, we hide from it, we shove it under the rug. We see it as something that is meant to be forgotten. But because of this we tend to not learn and grow from it.
What about if instead of hiding our failures we talk about them, share them, normalize them?
In the end, that was my last surfing lesson (for now). There were many reasons for this, most out of my control, but the core truth remained: I had not only failed at overcoming my fear that day and getting back into the water, but I had also failed at the more fundamental goal I had: learning how to surf.
How was this possible? A key part of my identity has always been my physical abilities. Put me to do anything that requires I run, catch, lift, throw, kick, etc, and I will do it well. I know I am strong, fast, and a quick learner. But none of that was evident when learning to surf. Absolutely none of it.
Talk about a reality check. It’s like the world was telling me: “You thought you were all of those things, but not always! Don’t get too comfy on that high horse.”
I told myself that maybe it was the lack of connection with my instructor, or the fact he didn’t seem comfortable teaching an “alpha woman” (his words, a story for another blog post), or the ocean conditions, or the board, or simply my state of mind. But also, maybe I am just trying to learn something that is freaking hard, something that needs time and patience and perseverance, and require that all the right pieces fit into place. Maybe it simply wasn’t the right time, the right place, the right anything.
When I told Alan I was going to write about this, he told me he didn’t see what happened as a failure, “it is just a learning opportunity”. And he is right, it is a learning opportunity, but it is also a failure, and that is okay. I think Alan’s response is a common one, we are so afraid of failure that we want to hide it behind semantics. But the definition of failure is simple: “a lack of success in doing or achieving something, especially in relation to a particular activity.” So, we probably fail at stuff much more often than we are willing to admit and acknowledge.
Failure is part of life, and we should be okay with it. I want to be okay with it. I really want to embrace this failure, own it, let it propel me further, make me wonder what I could have done differently, make me commit to what I will do differently next time I try to learn how to surf. Because I will, as I am committed to continue to do hard things.
I am not one for new years resolutions, which I share a bit about here, but having dinner with friends during NYE we asked each other what we wished to start or stop doing in the new year, and of everything I said I just remember one thing: “I want to be kinder to myself”. Writing this is me trying to do just that.
Where are we now?
Last time I wrote we were eating our way through Mexico City, which was really really lovely. We got to see lots of family and friends, and truly live in the city for several weeks, which we hadn’t done together before. I also got to experience my first earthquake - not once, or twice, but thrice! Yeah, THREE earthquakes. Thankfully they were all quite mild, but they still made me anxious. After Mexico City we flew to the Pacific coast of Mexico, landing in Puerto Vallarta and making our way north to the coast of the state of Nayarit, which is doted with cute little towns. We traveled with good friends for several weeks and spent New Years in a secluded home next to the ocean. Currently, we are in one of those cute towns, Sayulita, which will be our base for a few weeks. I can’t say I am in love with this place, but we are definitely enjoying our time in the area. I start my new gig tomorrow - aaaaaah! - and on Friday fly to Nigeria for an offsite - even more aaaaaah! Wish me luck :)