Recently I had the opportunity to attend one of my best friend’s weddings in Los Angeles. The wedding was originally meant to take place in May, but due to COVID-19, was pushed back. Unbeknownst to us, the virus would still be causing problems. I’m not sure a mask-clad wedding party is exactly what the bride had in mind, but it was still wonderful to be able to celebrate with her. She has taught me many lessons on flexibility, working through grief that comes with something like a global pandemic, and the importance of focusing on loving one another and being grateful for relationships. She is an absolute rockstar!

While we were in California we decided to go to the beach. I was so excited to spend time in the sun and play in the water. I didn’t grow up near the ocean and I’ve always absolutely adored it. Last summer I learned to boogie board in Cancun and I was excited to try out my new hobby while in LA.

Apparently, the waves in California are a little different (i.e. bigger) than the waves in Cancun. Within minutes of me excitedly paddling out my boogie board, I mis-timed a wave and it crashed on top of me. Like wet clothes in the washing machine, I was sent tumbling and spinning under the water, scraping my face and hitting my nose on the sandy ocean floor. I came out of the water sputtering, disoriented, and informed that my face was bleeding. My swimsuit was also completely full of sand.

I cleaned my face, took some medication for my sore, whiplashed neck, and enjoyed staying on land the rest of the day. To my chagrin, I realized our only plan for the next day was going to the beach again. I felt frustrated because this would typically be a perfect day for me but was now filled with discouragement and a sinking feeling of dread. How had the ocean, something that had always made me feel alive, free, and excited, suddenly become something to fear.

The next day I approached the beach with a scabby face, a stomach full of fear, and a battle raging inside between wanting to take it easy and wanting to try again. Ultimately, I got into the ocean, shed a few tears, and ended up having a great day *cautiously* enjoying boogie boarding.

This may not seem like a significant experience to many of you, but for me, it was a really big deal! I don’t get hurt often and wasn’t used to feeling so afraid of something I loved. After time has passed, this experience has also felt significant because of the lessons I’ve learned and the way I’ve processed it. I’d like to share some of these lessons with you.

  1. It’s okay to be afraid. As I was wading out into the ocean for the first time the day after my “rugburn of the sea” experience, I looked at my boyfriend and said, “I’m really scared.” His reply was “It’s okay that you’re afraid!” And he was right! Of course I was scared. That fear was actually helpful here. It was trying to keep me safe and help me be cautious. I didn’t need to will the fear away, but it also didn’t need to control my life. So my fear and I went into the ocean together instead.
  2. There’s no shame in taking it easy. Although I really wanted to try boogie boarding again, it would have been 100% okay if I decided to just take it easy in the sand instead. I think sometimes the cliches of “get back on the horse” and “fall down three times, rise four” (which is also just terrible math logic) makes us feel that we have to face failures and setbacks head on and if we take a break to rest and recoup we are doing something wrong or are weak. I just don’t think that has to be the case! Taking time to rest, heal, recover, mentally prepare, etc. is valuable and often very necessary.
  3. Failure stinks, but it’s not personal. As I was walking off the beach to go wash up, I recognized I was feeling an immense amount of shame. I’ve always struggled to feel like I was “athletic enough” and wiping out boogie boarding just was not very glamorous to me. I was feeling silly and foolish. As I recognized my emotional response, I was able to care for my younger self that felt unathletic, which felt very personal and scary as a kid. I was able to reason with myself a little and recognize that me not being very good at boogie boarding meant absolutely nothing else but that I was not very good at boogie boarding! It didn’t mean I wasn’t enough or that I wasn’t fun to have around or that I was less of a person than someone who was very good at boogie boarding. It just meant that I made a mistake. That’s it! It was so helpful for me to both internally and vocally process these emotions and take care of them in the moment.

Wiping out is no fun, but I am grateful for the lessons learned about life and myself because of the experience. Have you had your own literal or metaphorical “wipeouts”? What did you learn? How did you deal with the fear and failure?