“I am the shore and the ocean, awaiting myself on both sides.”
― Dejan Stojanovic, The Shape
Recently I attended a surfing camp. Like camp for children but with me and my friend, Peter. I’ve always been afraid of surfing.
Here’s my top three reasons why (just in case you think that it’s silly for me to be afraid):
- Growing up in Buffalo didn’t afford me much opportunity for being at the seashore and things that are unfamiliar (unfortunately) usually feel a little scary.
- Just once, around 10-years old, while visiting my aunt on the Jersey Shore I got stuck in the cold, strong undertow. Obviously, I didn’t drown but it feels easy to imagine how it happens.
- In 2014 while I was traveling in Portugal (from the safety of the shore) I watched a group of overconfident American first-time surfers almost succumb to the icy, crashing waves of the Atlantic near what was once thought to be the edge of the world.
Additionally, sharks. When called upon to share a fear during a stupid ice-breaker or something, sharks are always the first thing that comes to mind. Even in my above-ground swimming pool growing up, when I’d think about jumping in at night, I’d have a little flash of fear about a shark unexpectedly being in the water. Silly, I know.
And while I believe we should all have a healthy fear of the ocean and of (course) sharks, the thing that’s kept me from trying surfing in recent years is a fear about myself, my altered body and my strength.
Because my breast reconstruction was done through a(n uncomfortable) process that created a pocket in my pectoral muscle for the implant to sit, my upper body strength is greatly compromised.
Before I had a mastectomy I could do a handstand, a great number of (girly) pushups, vacuum and lift heavy objects without much thought. Post-mastectomy is a different story. While it’s certainly improved over the years, I lack confidence in my strength and mobility. I am also, as you probably have heard, cold. And when my chest gets cold, my muscles are even more feeble. It’s really frustrating.
In the days leading up to surf camp, I had many morbid fantasies about failure. Let’s keep this between us, because I like to be considered an optimist, but I spend an almost equal amount of time imagining my success as my failing. I’m sure it’s not great for my mental health but I’m trying to be honest here. When I thought about surfing, I’d picture being too cold to actually do anything at all once I was fully in water. I also assumed that because I’ve fallen off every single skateboard that I’ve ever stood on that I’d never be able to stand on a surfboard. I thankfully didn’t do much visualizing of drowning or being eaten by sharks but only because the other failures seemed so much more likely.
Guess what though, I did it. I paddled until my arms and back and neck ached. I fell more times than I can count while watching a bunch of children jump up and ride in waves with ease. I ate far too many CBD gummies on the second morning of camp because my body hurt so much that I had a genuinely hard time getting out of bed. But I kept going. I kept getting up each time I fell down. I kept paddling as hard as I could even though my chest muscles screamed- cold and angry.
I got myself up and balanced and rode waves into the shore. It was awesome.
Peter, who I’ve spent a lot of time with over the last three years, said he’d never seen me looking like I was at peace except for when he watched me sitting on a board, waiting for the waves. He was right. My mind felt clear and present.
I want more of that feeling in my life.
If I could spend the better part of the rest of my life in the ocean, I would do it in a heartbeat. Weeks have passed and my body no longer aches. My heart however, does. I am longing for more time moving fast and feeling weightless. I need more time when I don’t have a screen anywhere near me.
The challenge was mine to own, much like my startup. I think the constant picking myself up again I’ve had to do with Brilliantly primed me for surfing. I am simply not going to give up. I am not going to let my shortcomings hold me back. I might not be the fastest at popping up (or learning financial modeling) but I will keep trying because even my slowest achievements feel good. Great, actually.
And with any luck at all, I hope I’m carving out a life that includes more time in the water and less time clicking away at my keyboard.