My second lesson, on the other hand, was a real struggle. In this article, I’ll be discussing why the act of struggling is not only important, but necessary.
Although I’ve discussed my first surfing adventure in a previous article, I’ll sum it up here in one sentence: It was so much fun I wanted to do it again.
Naturally, this was the reason I went surfing a second time. The thing is, my second surfing experience was nowhere near as fun as the first.
Why not? Well, let’s just say that something was different. I could easily blame my second, less-fun surfing experience on the many outside forces over which I had no control:
For example, I could argue that the surf was rougher — and that’s true, because the waves were much more fierce than they were my first time.
I could also argue that the board they lent me was less manageable — and that’s true too, because the board was almost twice my height. It was much larger than the board I rented my first time.
I could even argue that the instructor wasn’t as helpful — which is also true, since the instructor was focusing exclusively on the things I was doing wrong. During my first time, the instructor was much more encouraging.
Maybe traveling from Michigan to the Jersey Shore wore me out…Maybe the sofa I slept on didn’t give me the good night’s rest I needed…Maybe I wasn’t feeling well that morning…
…or maybe every excuse I was looking for was nonsense.
I knew the real reason why I was struggling: I was out of shape.
When I went surfing the first time, I was in the best shape of my life. I was exercising three times a week, and greeted each day energetically.
By the time I went surfing the second time, I was no longer following my planned exercise routine. Once I fell out of the habit, it was hard to get back into it — I was constantly skipping out on my morning exercises.
Consequently, when I went surfing the second time, I imagined it would be just as enjoyable (read: just as simple) as the first time. The truth, however, is that I was so out of shape that I became exhausted within minutes.
After being thrown around in the surf for half an hour, I literally felt powerless. I could barely climb onto my board. It hurt to paddle against the incoming waves. It was a struggle to get beyond the wave crests to where my instructor was waiting for me. When I finally made it out there, my arms felt useless as he positioned me to catch a forming wave. I stood no chance of paddling fast enough to actually catch it — I was too weak.
As a result, I spent most of my second surfing experience battling the surf. Every time I would paddle out it took me longer than the time before, and it just kept getting harder. I was getting more exhausted with every attempt, and no matter how hard I tried to catch the waves I always ended up being roughed up by them instead.
Eventually, I knew I couldn’t go on any longer. I tried to pick my board up out of the water, but I had no strength left. Bent over sideways in the shallow water, I began to vomit — I overexerted myself.
Correction: Not only had I overexerted myself, but now I was advertising how much I overexerted myself. Children on the nearby beach pointed at me, saying things like “Eww,” and “That surfer’s sick.” My girlfriend Cassie, who I had hoped to impress on this outing, frowned at me sympathetically as I dragged my board up the beach while I offloaded the rest of my breakfast.
Visibly defeated, I set the board down on the sand, and then sat down on it to rest. I would try to describe my unhappiness, but my expression says it all:
As I sat there, staring at the waves, lots of things went through my head. Most of it was self-loathing. My masculine ego was desperately trying to come up with reasons why I was struggling so much, when I had previously done it with ease. When my thoughts finally settled, I understood this truism:
Being an amateur at anything is hard. Struggle is necessary for improvement.
That’s the reason I’ve always been reluctant to try new things — I was afraid of being bad at it. Since it’s rare to be an expert at something immediately, I got in the habit of avoiding new things to avoid embarrassing myself.
In hindsight, I recognize that was an awful way to live. Denying the possibility of experience, just to avoid “bad” ones, was foolish. I’m glad I’ve learned to lighten up — because although I initially believed this second attempt at surfing was a bad experience, it was actually a humbling experience:
It helped me understand the necessity of struggle. Without struggle, everything would be easy. Without struggle, achievement would be impossible. Without struggle, life would be boring.
Looking back on it, I realize that I did have fun that day — I was just too preoccupied with feeling defeated to realize it. The next time I’m at the shore, I will go surfing again — and look forward to the struggle that awaits me.
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