After three decades of surfing and a couple thinking about business I thought I would try to meld the two together. I will try to follow a journey from the beach out and back again and just share some insights I think I’ve picked up along the way. I can’t guarantee you’ll either surf or do business better at the end – but one thing surfing has taught me is there often is a chance.
Getting to the beach:
Over the years I have seen a lot of people fail at this first hurdle. They consider the wind direction, ask a couple of friends or even get so far as to drive in that general direction and then quit. It is easy, God knows easy in Britain, to look and decide it’s not perfect. When you are young you are so full of beans you go in anywhere and anything, as you progress through your twenties you get a little fussier. Luckily you still have some residual fitness and talent from those Halcion days of youth. You can reflect on foreign surfs in perfect waves and decide it is not worth your bother; you have a pint instead or watch the footy. This is the first mistake. Surfing has taught me that you should never miss an opportunity. Never decide in advance that something is going to be bad, that it is going to be less than perfect. By not being fussy you get twice the number of days in the water, maybe more. You remain fit, you hone your skills. Don’t wait for the perfect job so you can do well, do well now. Don’t wait for the perfect business opportunity do business now.
What if it’s flat:
Some days it is flat. I don’t mean ‘surfer flat’ I mean really properly flat. On these days there is no wave to catch. You now have two choices. You can let this get to you or you can do something else. If you let it get to you then you won’t have surfed and you will have also ruined your day and perhaps other people’s. Try not to do that. It isn’t worth it. It’s just a bit of fun. In business sometimes things go wrong, who am I kidding, in business all the time things go wrong. Don’t do nothing and don’t vent. Life has a rich tapestry and the surf will be back tomorrow. Go run, go chat, tidy the office, do something.
The paddle out:
Small days this is uneventful and life is easy. Small days the rewards are limited. On big days you feel that you may well simply die there somewhere midway. The sea is wonderfully relentless. It does not keep score, it won’t give you a break and it really doesn’t care that it is not fair. It will not yield but it will, if you are fit enough, not hold it against you when you break through. In business you get knocked back, you get held under. You can choose to quit at any point, you can wait for the world to play fair or you can just keep paddling, getting fitter and getting closer. One thing is certain in surfing – the last third is harder than the first two. At the point of greatest exhaustion you are closest to success.
I swear the wave of the day goes past just as I am taking my spot in the line-up. As I sit and catch my breath a Siren calls. I have at time turned and gone for that quick reward and in so doing found myself one-third of the way back in. Maybe it was worth it, maybe I miss-footed in tiredness. Either way I am now one-third of the way back in and three-thirds’ tired. When you have reached business success don’t be in too much of a hurry to bask in your just reward. Take time to re-coup your energy, to establish your position and to be sure of the market. After all your entire journey here may have just been a lucky rip current.
The thing is when you surf you are often out of your depth (literally and metaphorically). The water is not a safe place; the waves are almost too big. You get the best days by being on the edge. Comfort lies sat on the beach on a towel and we have already walked past that. It is ok to be uncomfortable that is a natural instinct that keeps us sharp and alive. I find myself in many situations where I am out of my depth (metaphorically) and I simply think about whether it will kill me or not. Once you realise a meeting won’t kill you it becomes a lot easier.
Don’t be a git:
So now you are here ready to surf, ready to enjoy the fruits of your paddle out. You are not alone and you have no special right. There are some sensible guidelines; the person closest to the breaking wave has priority. This is based on a combination of that being both the best and most dangerous place to be. There are probably enough waves for everyone. Oh but what if I am competitive, what if I snake around, what if I sneakily position myself so that I am always in that position? Then I will get more waves. Well you can do this, you can try and use a technicality but to what end? You will have gotten a few waves but people will hate you and rightly so. In life you will not be remembered for your surfing prowess but for being a git (stronger than that but I’m keeping it clean). You have to ask yourself do I want respect or do I just want, want, want. Of course you may find a few that respect your meanness, but I wouldn’t count on them on a rainy night when your car won’t start. The same is true in business. You can get to the ‘top’ by being mean, by being ruthless but when people think you are a git is there really any point. Buy yourself some toys to ease the pain of being friendless by all means. Easier just to be successful and fair.
Get up again:
You will fall off. There is no point being overly cautious. It will not hurt (excluding some big surf and reef breaks of course). It is better to try and fall than to lie on your belly. The growth in popularity of certain surfing activities is largely tied to the fact that they are easier. That’s fine but unless you have dropped down the face of a too hollow wave, gone vertical back up and dropped back down again something way too steep to tuck into some sort of a barrel you haven’t done that. You either have or you haven’t it is that simple. Now I am not saying that unless you do that you aren’t surfing, far from it, what I am saying is don’t take the easy way out. Try it, push, fail, try again. No one out there is perfect; no one out there is making every wave when they are pushing like that. The people making every wave are lying in a couple of feet of water on a bit of foam with their wetsuit on backward. Their happy, that’s their business, but we’re not on holiday. In business the easy way is rarely the way to success. Simplify of course, but don’t expect everything to come easy to you. Don’t make it hard, get the right tools when you can, but always push.