"How did you do?"
Those four little words have wreaked more havoc in my life than I care to recall. They've been especially painful on this trip because my surfing is not where I wanted it to be.
Even though I devoted more time and energy to physical conditioning and swim training before boarding the plane to South Africa, my performance on prior trips outshines anything I've been able to manage here. I even lowered my expectations to account for the variables (time between trips, changes in conditions, breaking my prior pop-up style, etc.) but I have yet to catch a wave and ride it the way I know I have before.
While my ego is bruised, my spirits are surprisingly bright. First, I've been frustrated with my surfing before, and I know progress, especially in this realm, is not linear. Second, I am surrounded by beauty. Not only are Cape Town's beaches, mountains, and people are breathtaking, but my fellow travelers, including our trip leaders and coaches are all exceptional human beings.
I woke up early and decided to head out into the ocean for an early morning surf. I bought my first surfboard yesterday and wanted to try her out. I also wanted to experience surfing the way I remember loving it: On my own -- just my board, the waves, and me.
My entire life has been an exercise in achievement, often striving for targets set by other people. Left to my own devices, would I have based my worth on my stellar grade point average, playing tennis, or the french horn? Would I have needed the validation that comes from owning the "right" car or weighing the "right" amount? I can't say, but the answer is irrelevant.
One major theme of my life in the past few years has involved untangling my sense of worth from possessions, achievements, and my external circumstances. My parents -- like all parents -- did the best they could with the tools given to them by their parents, who did the best they could with the tools passed down to them, and so on. As one of the few Americans on this trip, I'm even more aware our society's obsession with productivity and individual achievement, and its adverse impacts on my life. While I came by this flawed mindset honestly, it now hurts more than it helps. It's time for that line of thinking to go.
Here's the question that I want to ask instead: In my heart of hearts, what do I want? Do my thoughts and actions back that up? If the answer is yes, then that's good enough. If the answer is no, then what needs to change?
A therapist once told me that worth is awarded in equal amounts to everyone. I have the same share of worth as any other human being on the planet. No more, no less.
I didn't catch any waves on my new board today, but I did paddle out by myself. I tried. That's what counts.