“Dad what’s been the issue recently?” I asked as my dad had seemed stressed and unfocused over the past week or so.
“I’m alright bud,” he replied, “just not sure what to do with my company and am being stretched in several directions right now.”
I nodded my head in agreement as I could see the distress on his face and in his body language.
Catching me off guard, he then sat up and inched to the edge of the couch, asking, “you have any advice for me?”
I started to laugh thinking ‘what am I supposed to say that he doesn’t already know,’ but then I remembered a lesson he had taught me years back.
“Yeah, there actually is something that’s been on my mind recently,” I replied.
Tilting his head slightly, he turned the TV off and gave his full attention to me and asked “What’s that?”
“Do you remember my 13th birthday at the beach?” I asked.
Unsure where I was taking our conversation, he nodded his head and waited for me to continue.
“I had opened my gifts earlier that morning and received a new boogie-board, a wetsuit, and a heavy duty shovel for digging trenches in the sand. It was May 7th and although the water was still a little chilly, I felt equipped to ride the waves for the first time as I was determined and confident to go out past my knees. When Uncle Rick tested me saying “you sure you’re ready to stop playing with the little kids?” I quickly shouted back “I’m not scared!” and I was ready to overcome the power of the ocean.
Smiling, remembering the day, dad waited for me to get to the point.
“Everyone’s eyes were on me and you anxiously looked on knowing how big this moment was for me. I jumped over the first front of baby waves with ease, then stood up straight and slowed down slightly as I approached the next much more daunting breaking point. I had just about reached my previous comfort threshold, but this was a new year; I was now a teenager. I didn’t look back and continued to walk towards the massive waves, but striding forward got to be harder and harder. All of a sudden, I found myself struggling to lift a knee as I was trying to stabilize myself against the current that was trying to suck me under. However, eventually the undertow eased up enough and I practiced diving through a few waves like I had seen you do. I was on a mission and diving through waves was a lot of fun and a lot more tiring than I had originally thought. I kept my board under control and after about 10 successful wave encounters, I made my first mistake. I turned to look at you. I smiled ear-to-ear, wiped my eyes, and right as I was about to to throw my arms up in victory, the biggest wave yet crashed over me. My grin turned for a split second to panic before I was engulfed by the sea. Two long seconds later, I managed to get my feet under me and my eyes were as wide as the horizon.”
There was a warm moment of silent remembrance that was interrupted, “Do you remember the conversation we had when I eventually made my way up to you?” I asked.
“Of course,” dad answered. “I told you, ‘son, in order to conquer the ocean you’ve gotta respect it. That wave would have done the same thing to all of us if we turned our backs to it the way you did and we’re a whole lot bigger than you are.’” he recalled with a tender chuckle.
“Right, and that lesson has stuck with me ever since,” I responded. “Then, do you remember the second lesson that followed that same day?”
Dad squinted as if trying to peer back into the distant past. He slowly shook his head no. “Remind me,” he urged.
“Well, I clearly remember you firmly gripping me by the shoulders and saying’so what are you doing? Get back out there!’ Then you gave me a little nudge toward the water. I held my breath and my eyes danced from the shore to the ocean. That is when my self-talk kicked in saying, “look, I said before we came that I was not leaving until I went out there all by myself and rode a wave.” With that, I took another minute or two, to muster up my 13 year old courage and with great resolve I grabbed my board and charged at the waves.”
Dad nodded as the image came back to his mind. By this time, he had forgotten about the stress that led us to this conversation.
“Within 5 minutes, I was back where I was before and the perfect wave finally presented itself, inviting me to ride it. It was exciting and I caught the entire thing. The whole family clapped and cheered and this time I rose up out of the water with confidence to sprint back out for another. Each time I rode a wave I’d run back out to greet a slightly larger one. Over and over, I danced with the ocean. We were sharing a rhythm, I had tamed the wild waves! But then, I looked up and realized I had drifted a couple hundred yards down the shore. I had gotten so caught up in this exhilarating dance with mother nature that once again I allowed my foolish pride to distract me and make me believe that I was all powerful.”
Dad chuckled and chimed in, “yeah, bud, I don’t think you quite realized at the time just what had happened. Your Uncle Ricky and I greeted you, jazzed about what you had done. You laughed and high-fived us and then said “how did I get all the way down there?!” I smiled back at you and said “the under-current pulled you over the longer you stayed out in the water.” You knew what it was, but obviously did not understand why it mattered. I proceeded to explain that the undercurrent is the other part of the ocean you’ve gotta watch out for.”
“So I learned two lessons that day,” I picked up where dad paused, “If you don’t pay attention to the waves they’ll crash over you and can hurt ya pretty bad, but on top of that, if you don’t pay attention to the undercurrent, it’ll pull you away from where you set up for the day and you will loss your bearings. Then you said something that I will never forget, you said, ‘Don’t worry though, we were here to make sure you didn’t get sucked away too far.”
So, dad, I bring this up as a reminder to you that you can acknowledge where you’re at with work and fight everything that’s going on around you, or you can spin things in your favor and ride the waves. In the ocean I learned that day of what happens when I dismiss the things that I can’t control and expect my life to go smoothly. It wasn’t fun. However, then I learned to be conscious of what I can’t control and get creative based on what I could control in a very unfamiliar environment. It all plays into a quote I heard about ‘being comfortable with being uncomfortable’ or something like that. Ultimately you choose when and how you thrive.
The second aspect of the lessons I learned that day are a little more blatant and applicable coming from me. The undercurrent represents how easy it is to lose your roots when things actually do go well and you represent how family is here to keep each other grounded. So no matter how badly you get knocked down by the waves, or how tunnel-visioned you become regarding the riptides we’ll always be here, so don’t stress to much. It’s the least we can do in terms of being a healthy part of your work-life balance.