I LOVE the beach. Going to the beach is my escape from regular life. I’ve always gone in the winter with my pups because it’s the quietest, most relaxing place I know. I like to sit on the beach to stare into the distance and think. I like to run on it as the sun rises in its brilliance. I like to watch the gloriousness as the sunsets. I like to grab a tan in warm seasons while reading my favorite book. It’s peaceful there. A loud, yet quiet peaceful.
Having lived on both US coasts, I still can’t fathom how people live in the middle. (Seriously, middle dwellers, explain it to me.) I have to live on the coast close enough to reach the beach in a few hours max. Landlocked places make me antsy. I need to know the waves are still rushing. I need to see them for myself. I need to know that life is really still moving and not because we’re moving it. I need that taste of the power of God. I need to see the ocean but I never EVER wanted to go in. Never.
My whole life I’ve been terrified of the water. I liked being next to the water. To watch the waves, to enjoy the splashing, to see what the ocean brings to the sand. I didn’t grow up with an ocean nearby. I know how to float and paddle around in a pool or a lake, but my labored breath quickly takes over & I freak out if I have to go too far. Knowing how quickly the ocean could kill me, that something inside it could eat me, or hearing of people who were swept out to sea and lived on little boats drinking their own pee? Yeah, not for me.
Until one day…
My California uncle told me ocean kayaking wasn’t that much different from river kayaking. He took me to a little beach near Pismo, California with what looked like a giant Tupperware container and sent me out in a life jacket to jump in it. His only warning – “don’t put the kayak between the wave and you.” He pushes me out. Wave one. Smash, tip over. I’m underwater. Coming up fighting for air. Wave two. Smash, can’t get back in. The life jacket is holding me down in the water. I keep trying because everyone on the beach is watching.
Shaking, I dragged that oversized bathtub boat back to shore. Goosebumps and deep breaths. He laughed. “What’s wrong? Are you cold? Go on, try it again.” No thanks. That was terrifying. He had no idea that I had never been in the ocean before. Profuse apologies and hugs ensued. He felt awful but had never thought to ask. How could anyone not have been in the ocean in their mid-30’s?! We found a spot on the beach with no waves and like a child, he pushed me into the quiet water. Beautiful ocean kayaking without the terror of the waves. I loved it. He now asks everyone “Have you been in the ocean?” before taking them out.
6 months later, I was at the beach enjoying the sun only to realize there was no bathroom at the beach. Yikes. My friend told me to go stand in the waves. “Nah, I can hold it.” He rolled his eyes and took my hand. We walked into the ocean, chatted for a bit and I felt relieved – in more ways than one. Something that small had been scary enough to make me want to wait. Why was I so scared?
6 months after that, I went to Hawaii. The waves – oh, the waves. I loved sitting on the beach watching the blue water but wasn’t interested in body surfing or boogyboarding – terrifying. What if the current took me under? Learning how the waves worked and watching how I could anticipate them, I felt a tiny bit more comfortable. Until we got to the snorkeling reef. I was just going to sit on the beach. Zero desire to swim with the fishes.
Except that they had these full face mask things (a friend said they look like jockstraps for your face) that allowed you to breathe regularly through your mouth and nose. So, out we went. The first time was terrifying and beautiful. I was breathing too fast. So I tried again. And wow. All of the wonder below the water’s surface. All the fish, the coral, the critters. So incredible. I was hooked.
And then I went to Bali on Escape to Bali with Jennifer Moore. Bali is a magical place. It tricks you into thinking you can do anything. With a bronze tan, loads of yoga and exercise, and all the vegan food a girl can consume, I felt a wee bit less than certain that I could conquer this insane fear of the ocean. The lovely human leading us took us to the ocean for surf lessons – each of us with individual instructors. I was assigned to a tall skinny Balinese college student, Ricky, who looked like he had grown up in the ocean. After learning all of the techniques and processes to stand on a board, my ankle was strapped to a board and I was dragged out into the waves fighting the undercurrent. Ricky seemed to walk on water as if there was nothing holding him back. I struggled. Hard. Waves, fear, heavy breathing, worry of death. Ugh.
Waves hitting me over and over, we finally reached what he thought was a good spot and he turned the board and told me to lay on it. “Do your best.” And sent me on my way. I started to stand up, got to my knees and rode a wave to the beach. A little thrill. Walking the board back out, he put me on it again. Wobble, balance lost, splash. All the salt up my nose. Cough. Sputter. I hate this.
Heading back out, we got to a new spot. On the board, wave hits, pushup, left foot back, front foot on, wham. Fell off. As I wipe my face sputtering swear words under my breath, I look back and see Ricky with his arms up and a big smile. I got up! Wait, I did. I got up. Let’s do it again.
The next time I went out, I asked Ricky to say “I believe in you” when he pushed me. Hearing those words was just what I needed to get up & rock it. Over the next 90min, I got up fully seven times and rode to the beach three of those. What a rush! First time out and I’m hooked. Yes! Apparently, I have great balance. I even figured out how to steer the board. Yes! Let’s do this again! Salt in my sinuses, be damned.
Only after we were done did I find out how rough the ocean had been. The instructors were proud of all of us for rocking our beginner lessons in that surf. Ummm, yeah. Had I known this, I would have opted out. My fear had been monumental – something I never thought I would overcome – but as I grabbed a selfie with Ricky before I left, he said, “Melanie, I killed your scared.” Oh man, he did. He killed my scared.
My entire life I’ve been worried about the big bad ocean while also being soothed by its power. There’s obviously a metaphor in there somewhere – but if I take this at just face value, I see how much this one fear has affected so many other things for me.
I recently got a long train-of-thought email from one of the speakers for Rock Your Talk. It was the type of email you don’t want to read or you’ll edit – so she just hit send. And boy, was it powerful. It reminded me of my own scary first few years in business. She shared about how she had been learning and growing over the years – sinking tons of money into learning about her business – only to realize that she was avoiding actually doing the things she was learning. She was the one holding herself back and she was ready to break the pattern by getting on stage and sharing her story with the world. She was ready to face her fears of success. She was ready to be successful. But SHE had to make that decision and take the steps to get there. She needed to kill her scared.
We place limits on ourselves – and sometimes we don’t even realize how limiting they are.
My surfing lesson wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things – I doubt I’ll ever become a professional. BUT it showed me that I was hiding from things that were limiting me. “Life without limits” is my mantra. And I’m the only one putting limits on myself. My fears are standing in the way of the things I want to do – nothing else. It’s up to me to step over them – through them – and find the joy on the other side.
What’s in YOUR way?
What’s your ocean?
Start with little steps. Find out how the seawater tastes. Float for a bit. Jump in a kayak. Go snorkeling. And then stand up on that surfboard. When you finally release the fear, you realize how small it really was in the first place.
I’m standing in the ocean with you. Let’s kill your scared!