I wouldn’t call myself an avid surfer, but I love to surf.  I always had dreams of catching the big wave and riding it into the shore while people applaud me.  I even hire photographers when I’m in Hawaii to catch me riding the big waves.

Except, I don’t ride big waves at least not in surfing.  But what I learned from my surf instructor taught me an important lesson for the big waves I ride as an entrepreneur and the big waves I ride in life.

Time and time again, when we fall, we’re told, “Get back up and try again.”  They act as if it’s easy to get back up instantly after a hard fall. How many times have you fallen hard in life, dusted yourself off, only to get knocked back down immediately by the next wave? It happens to me often.

There were times when things were really bad when I told myself, “Just keep your head above water” and it’ll all work out.  I used to tell others that were going through tough times that same horrible advice…

“Keep your head above water.”

But that’s stupid advice and I’ll never give it again.  When I was out there with my surf instructor, we were talking about the nature of waves and what it takes to be a big wave surfer.  Since I’m a larger guy, I need a larger wave to begin with, which meant I had to paddle out a little further than everyone else.  How many times have you felt alone in an ocean by yourself in order to catch the right opportunity or that big break? I sure felt that way.

As he talked to me about waves, he told me about the importance of not bouncing up quickly after I fall off the board.  What? Yea, “Don’t come up quickly when you fall; Relax under water.”

The first thing I wanted to do was get my money back for listening to this crazy advice until he explained why.  He told me that waves never come alone, they always come in packs. He said that waves can only knock you down when you’re on the surface, if you stay underwater, they won’t affect you. If you were to bounce up instantly after a fall, you’re going to get knocked right back under water.  That’s when people panic; that’s when people drown.

He proceeded to tell me that being a big wave surfer required more than just surf skills, you need lung capacity to be able to stay under water for a couple of minutes.  The bigger the wave, the longer you need to hold your breath. With waves that are several stories high crashing down on you in succession, you’d be a fool to try and fight them on the surface.

But underneath, you don’t’ have to fight the waves.  Just like in the ocean, I realized that often I’m fighting waves I don’t have to fight simply because I’m in a hurry to “get back on top.”

I learned that though the waves come in packs, there is always a calm before the next round of waves.  This means there is always a chance to refocus, get back on my board and prepare for the next opportunity.
So I tried it.  Instead of letting all the waves hit me one after another as I fought to get back on top of my board and the ocean, I fell and enjoyed the serenity of the ocean.  There is beauty in being underwater surrounded by the vastness of the ocean.  It was a freeing feeling.  I wasn’t fighting, I wasn’t rushing, I was just gathering myself and enjoying the moment.

And then I popped up out of the water and it was clear.

I’ve taken that approach to life.  When you’re chasing something great, you’re going to get knocked down and it is going to hurt.  I’ve been knocked down more times than I can count.  But instead of rushing to get up, I learn to just appreciate the beauty of the situation.  Sure there may be waves crashing on me, sure I may be confused as to what my next move may be, but that’s something I can figure out later.  There will always be another wave, another opportunity, or another chance.  I owe it to myself and the wave to be at my best and to give my best when I do try and “catch the big wave.”  I can’t do that if I’m always fighting the waves.

I’ve learned you can’t always try and keep your head above water, sometimes you just have to hold your breath.

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