Growing up in the Midwest, my surfing credentials included shopping at Pacific Sunwear and watching “Blue Crush” with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in hand. The closest body of water was Lake Michigan. While I believe she’s deserving of her title as one of the Great Lakes, her temperament is more suited to swimming and boating, and the cultures of the communities surrounding her shores agree. There are mavericks who don wetsuits and have the skill and patience to harness the energy in the swells she does offer (often during freakishly inclement weather), but as the exception and not the rule, I concluded that surfing was not in the cards for me.
Thirteen years later, I posed for the picture above. On the last night of my week-long trip to Surf Simply, a technical surf coaching resort in Nosara, Costa Rica, we paddled out one last time to watch the sun sink into the Pacific. In surfing, the gear used to capture images of the action is almost as the important as the board and wax. Scott, a primary care physician from Oregon (pictured above) and his wife Kate were members of our group. Having brought a drone and a GoPro from his photographic arsenal, the surf coaching staff (mostly the boys, actually) got giddy over his tech the way the way we student surfers turned into kids the minute our eyes spotted the breaking waves.
As we smiled for Coach Jessie Carnes, in the back of my head I knew if this picture turned out, I’d be in possession of Facebook profile picture gold. I’ve already introduced you to my inner critic, Sally, and it’s no surprise that she had plenty to say throughout the trip. The main reason I’m downright evangelical about helping myself and others turn down the volume on the inner critic is because if I followed Sally’s advice I would have missed all of this!
The big lie we tell ourselves is that by playing it safe we don’t have to assume risk. In this instance, “playing it safe” would have looked like continuing to accumulate vacation days, afraid to take them for fear of what my team members or clients might think. When I’m in my workaholic martyr mindset, my frustration comes out sideways. If I breathe easier when I learn a whirling dervish is going to be out of the office, I’m sure others have felt the same way about me.
Pushing past my physical and emotional limits with 11 other strangers — all while wearing a swimsuit — is about the furthest away from playing it safe this girl can get. If Sally would have had her way, I’d still be doing some "bikini countdown" diet, waiting to book the trip until I matched my mental image of what I thought a surfer “should” look like.
In this case, my opportunity cost would have been missing out on the ecstasy that comes from doing something I previously thought was impossible. The ripple effect of such a powerful life lesson continues to benefit me today by giving me the confidence to challenge other perceived limitations: from speaking truth to power, to becoming a yoga teacher, to launching my own business. Not only have I drastically underestimated the opportunity cost of playing it safe — I’ve also failed to factor in the compound interest.
The best part of all, is that with the right perspective, there is no actual downside to challenging the inner critic. Even if the results don’t look like what I’d hoped would happen — if I speak truth to power and they retaliate, if I attempt crow pose while practice teaching and land on my face, if my business fails — as long as I learn from the experience of having attempted it, I’ve got wisdom that will continue to benefit me for the rest of my life.
This is where Sally chimes in to say that wisdom doesn’t pay the bills. My response is that in 35 years, I’ve never gone without a meal or a roof over my head. If I had to be anyone on the planet when the chips are down, my money’s on me. When it comes to navigating the hostile terrain of personal growth, I’m Bear Grylls.
If my perfectionism and people-pleasing kept me safely tucked away in a box on the shelf, I’d never have taken the tumbles that taught me tenacity and resilience are some of my most valuable character traits. If I can do this, you can too. If you insist that you can't, grab your pocket knife, some flint, and let Gold Dust show you how. If you've experienced this yourself, please share it here.
When have you been grateful you ignored your inner critic?