10 Tips for Navigating the Waters of Life


October 28, 2009   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Peace of mind


While some of us might fit the stereotype of Jeff Spicoli beach bums who don’t care about anything other than riding waves, there is an entirely spiritual and zen side to the sport of surfing that gives us a chance to really understand how to navigate the waters of life. In fact one of the most common things you’ll hear a surfer say when asked about how much time they spend in the water is “Of course I surf every day that I can, it keeps you from going nuts.” So, here it is, in no particular order:

10 Tips for Navigating the Waters of Life

    • Trust Your instincts
      If there’s anything I’ve realized over 31 years on this planet and 6 months in the ocean, it’s that your instincts are almost always right. I’d like to think that your instinct is the higher self speaking. Instinct is something that is really hard to quantify or define. It’s something you just feel or know. If you look back over your life you’ll notice that in the moments when you trusted that feeling, you ended up in positive situations. When you go against instinct you almost ALWAYS end up in a complete mess. 
  • Bail out when you think you won’t make it
    In many ways this is similar to trusting your instinct. While some might argue against this and say that failure is necessary to learn, this is more about knowing when it’s just time to bail out. If you’re about to take the plunge into a situation and feel like you are on the brink of a severe wipeout, you are almost always right. In life and in surfing this tends to hold true. 
  • Be Present
    Last summer when I was working as a marketing intern at Turbotax.com, one of the executives gave a speech to all the interns. When I asked her what they key to making fast progress in your career was, she gave me an answer that seemed counter intuitive to everything I’d ever heard. She told me “Don’t worry about getting ahead, focus on what you’re doing right now. Be present. The rest will take care of itself.”

Presence is at the root of almost any spiritual text that I’ve come across and every personal development guru seems to be a huge advocate of it. When you are present, you achieve peak performance in whatever it is you are doing in the moment. Too much focus on the future and too much dwelling on the past is a recipe for mediocrity.

  • Shake the wipeouts right away
    Sometimes despite trusting your instincts, bailing out when you think you should, and being completely in the moment, you will fail. It’s just part of life. But, how you deal with that failure is what makes the difference between whether or not you achieve what you are truly capable of in this lifetime. 

Sometimes the 2nd wave of opportunity is better than the first: If you’re a surfer then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Sometimes you take the first wave in a set and when you look back at the second wave, it’s bigger and better. Life kind of works the same way. There are moments that seem like your friends and everybody around you is getting ahead faster than you are. They are on that first wave of opportunity. If you keep comparing and competing then you’re likely to miss out on the 2nd wave opportunity which is often better than the first. Be OK with the order in which things occur.

  • Be Patient
    Patience is something that I’ve never been very good at. I actually think we live in a world that discourages patience to some degree. Bigger, better, faster seems to be the mantra of the technology and information driven society that we live in today. Wayne Dyer said something really interesting in one of his books: Today it takes more time to get from one side of London to another, than it did before the automobile was invented.” Yet, the whole purpose of the automobile was to speed up the rate at which we get to places. Sometimes slowing down will get you where you want to go much faster, and is less likely to get you into an accident. 
  • Small adjustments make a big difference
    It’s amazing how often the smallest adjustments can make huge differences. With surfing, a minor adjustment in your stance can make all the difference between staying on a wave and wiping out. If you look at the design of a car, sometimes it’s literally inches that make a dramatic difference in performance. For a musician, one minor change in the melody, can completely change the sound of a song. If you can find that one small thing that makes a big difference, you’ll expend less effort for more results.
  • Timing can make the difference between a great ride and a severe wipeout
    You’ve probably heard the phrase about many things in life that “timing is everything.” In the worst of economic times, people have made some of their greatest breakthroughs. It’s known that many people became extremely wealthy during The Great Depression. Tough economic times tend to force innovation and this just happens to be timing at work. On the flip side, college students who graduate into a recession may have been better off by graduating even one year earlier. 
  • Wave selection can make all the difference
    Success in any endeavor is largely dependent on the choices you make. Choose the right wave and you’ll catch one wave after another. Choose the wrong wave and you’re in for a great deal of time with your head under water. Life is kind of the same way. Choose the right boss and you’re setting yourself up for a successful career. Choose the wrong one and you’re in a losing battle. Choose the right partner, and you’re in a for a joyful relationship. Choose the wrong one and you’re setting yourself up for drama and heartache. So, make sure you choose wisely. 
  • Laugh and Smile every single day
    After all is said and done if you don’t laugh and smile, then it doesn’t really matter how much of the above you incorporate into your life. Laughter and smiles are great medications that you won’t find in any pharmacy. Yet, they have more power than most synthesized drugs that we’ve learned to manufacture with the advances we’ve made.

The waters of life are interesting in that they go through phases of stillness, turbulence, peace, and serenity. But in the end, what makes the ultimate difference is how you navigate the waters of life.

Written on 10/28/2009 by Srinivas Rao. Srinivas is a volunteer for the Quality of Life Project. The website shares best practices on getting the most out of life from well known types like Richard Branson and Tom Skerritt to lesser known but equally interesting individuals. The mission of the organization is to help people live more enjoyable, purposeful and contented lives. Srinivas also writes at www.theskooloflife.com. Photo Credit: mikebaird

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