I’ve always been uncomfortable with failure. As a child, I established, through some association, the belief that trying something and not achieving the expected outcome was a bad thing. I unconsciously navigated much of my life with this belief firmly nestled into a quiet corner of my mind. I knew intellectually that this was not true. I knew that trying — its intention and execution — is a kind of success. But belief can be stronger than knowledge. Surfing has taught me to believe otherwise.
This is one of the areas of my life where fear of failure does not have any say. Not surprisingly, it is an area where I feel great confidence. It is where I have experienced growth, too. It is where I live out a firm and whole sense of authentic personal expression.
In surfing I have developed a healthy relationship with the fear of failing. It is where I have failed the most, and where I feel the most success.
In the water, I have never really been afraid to fail. This is not the same as not feeling fear in the water: that I certainly do. But I have come to recognize my fear in the water as a signal to push through rather than pull back. In this way, failing in surfing has become one of my favorite things.
Surfing made clear the relationship between each fall, the lessons gained in the process, and its direct correlation to achievement. It is felt there. I view this experience as a practice in the art of failing. And I am seeking to incorporate this lesson into all other areas of my life.
I remember hearing an interview with a successful businesswoman who said that when she was young and at the dinner table her dad would ask, his voice full of energy and enthusiasm: “What were your failures today? And what did you learn?”
As a result, “failing” became a kind of success in her mind. Through this subtle turn in perspective, for her, extraordinary things became possible.
In surfing, in the actual act of riding a wave, the greatest success is getting barreled. This is an act of standing within the hollowed interior of a breaking wave and, ideally, coming out the end in a spit of mist. It requires a lot of technique, knowledge, experience, and commitment. It is one of those things that is extremely challenging but looks almost effortless. The surfer simply stands there, riding a collective lifetime of experience, flying on the wings of a thousand failures.
And this is where the beautiful failing comes in. In order to achieve this, you must fail. A lot. It is an absolute necessity. Because what you don’t see in that moment of apparent effortlessness in riding the barrel is the hundreds of wipeouts, closeouts, and beatdowns behind it. The thousand attempts needed to build confidence and skill.
With your thousand “failings,” you have created a thousand stepping stones. So much fine learning deep in the body, so much ability to navigate challenges, so much confidence. A new belief.
Fail, I say to myself. Fail often, I tell my friends. Fail beautifully. When the best wave of your life comes, it will most likely look unmakable. And for that very reason, when you make it through, it will be your greatest success.