Boardroom: Lessons from Surfing (2) – Whose Fool?

Your Own Fool

There will be times while you’re learning to surf that you will feel like a fool:

  • When you ask stupid questions.
  • When you do something foolish with your surfboard or an accessory.
  • When you wear a ridiculous hat.
  • When you struggle to get out through the breakers to try and catch a wave in the first place.
  • When you miss wave after wave after wave, flounder around a bit in the white water and then go back to struggling through the breakers again…
  • When you get in someone’s way.
  • When the perfect, empty wave finally arrives and your arms are so exhausted that it slips away
  • When a look or a word from someone else makes you feel like a fish out of water.*

So What?

Stupid hats not withstanding, this kind of looking and feeling foolish is part of the cost of doing almost anything new in public. It’s exactly the feeling that you don’t get when you stay home not learning to surf.

Unless you’ve announced yourself as some kind of expert, that unpleasant feeling of incompetence is exactly the sign that you’re in the right place, doing what you have chosen to do. Ask yourself: “Do I want this thing enough to pay the price of feeling foolish?” You can think of it as a kind of emotional labour. Coming to accept these feelings as an integral part of the learning process, not letting them fluster you, is how you get competent at being incompetent.

There may be people who laugh at your antics, but there won’t be many**… and you’re not at the beach fooling around for their benefit: you’re fooling around for your own benefit. The awkward feeling will pass as you gain experience and competence, and until that time comes the joke’s on them even if the joke’s on you, it’s your joke.

*I’ve found other surfers to be almost universally encouraging, delighted to see someone learning and ready with tips. The cooler-than-thou, scornful types are people who are like that anyway.
**Most people aren’t that interested in you.

See also:

Aristotle on virtue as a mean (4) – leaning out (or “Whose fool are you?”)

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