Life is full of lessons big and small. No matter how prepared you think you are for something, if you take a very powerful force too lightly, you will regret it.
For the last year I have spent a lot of time getting into shape. After that preparation I thought I could put on a wet suit and take on the stormy Oregon coast without negative consequences. I was wrong.
Most of the experienced surfers were playing Frisbee on the beach or taking naps in the sand. A thinking person would have asked them a few questions or even realized that something was keeping their surf boards dry. (I learned later from the surf shop that it was not a good time to be surfing.) With a bit of over confidence in my athletic abilities, I thought it would be a good day to learn how to surf and I did not pay much attention to what the water or other surfers were doing. I just saw five-foot waves and thought I could handle it.
I methodically paddled my oversized board to where I thought the waves were breaking. After missing everything coming my way, I paddled out further. Before I knew it, the tide had pulled me way further out then I had planned and had pushed me towards some pretty scary looking rocks. I tried swimming frontwards, backwards, kicking with my legs, dragging the board and pushing the board, but nothing seemed to be working. After feverishly swimming for about 20 minutes, I had made little progress and I was exhausted.
We were in an isolated beach that had big cliffs on both sides. There were no lifeguards and it took about 15 minutes to walk to the beach from the road. I wondered how long I would have to be gone before the coast guard would come with their helicopters. I began to envision what my wife was going to do for a casket if they couldn’t find me. I was relieved to know that my life insurance was still active and at least she would be taken care of. I can honestly say that I was a bit scared. After a few moments of ridiculous thoughts, I quit feeling sorry for myself and started trying to fix my self-created misery.
After a brief rest, a prayer or two and some proactive thinking, I saw another crazy fool about 35 yards in who looked like he knew what he was doing. He had a boogie board and came prepared with swimming fins to combat the current. I swam aggressively in his direction. Observing my novice surfing skills, he told me when to hit it hard again and which wave to catch to carry me in. Five minutes later I sat exhausted next to my wife and admitted defeat. I was done and grateful to be on land.
What lessons did I learn? In life, business and surfing you are never really in control. You can prepare all you want, but there is always something bigger and more powerful than you. Reckless overconfidence can undo all your preparations but having the right advice at the right time can carry you home and help prevent disaster.