Surfing Lessons: Overcoming Stress at Work

January 12, 2014 | Posted in Professional Development | By

Have you ever had a stressful day at work? How about one of those extraordinarily frustrating days where it feels like every second there is someone or something coming to you with an urgent crisis? Fires are popping up everywhere around the office, and it would seem like the entire world is focused on giving you the urgent task, which if not solved, will result in the end of the human race. Well, at least, a very upset employee or customer.

On these days there is absolutely no hope in getting anything than you want accomplished. You are a slave to the urgent, not the important. These days are incredibly frustrating, draining and stressful to say the least. We have all been here. In fact, I had one of these days this past week.

When I experience days like this, I often think of Surfing.


With surfing, there are some days where you get knocked off each and every wave you try to ride. When you jump on your surf board, you immediately get knocked off. The harder you try, the harder you fall back into the water … it’s this over and over again throughout the entire day.

The only thing you can do on days like this is to just ride the wave. Meaning go with the flow and let the waves take you where they may. The harder you fight it, the more stressful and frustrating the day will become. Let the day pass, then come back tomorrow morning, with your surf board in hand, and hit the waves again!

Here are a couple of good things to remember when you are getting nailed by some intense waves:

1)    Struggling with the waves builds your strength and surfing experience.

Fail often so you can succeed sooner. The best surfers in the world are not only great at riding waves, but also at wiping out. Remember, there is always something to learn and grow by having a stressful day at work. Difficult days periodically lead to times of reflection and self-thought after day is over. Ask yourself, what could I have done differently today? How else might I have better managed my time, or what pieces of good insight did I learn today?

2)    You need a “leg rope” or a “safety net”.

Surf boards come with what’s called a “leg rope” or “leash” that attaches your ankle to the board. This way when you get knocked off your board it keeps the board from being swept away. Just the same, when you have your crazy, stressful days at work. Make sure you have a “leg rope” or what I call a “safety net”; this is a system to keep track of all your tasks in easy access for when your stressful day passes.

I personally keep lists of all of the items that I will need to follow up with once the urgent has passed. I use a combination of a task manager called Wunderlist and also Outlook e-mail. This way I don’t forget what I will need to complete the following day. This could also be as easy as sending yourself e-mails of tasks to complete. Regardless, you need a safety need to help you remember and to follow up later.

3)    Take time to find an experienced surfer and debrief.

Often times beginning surfers will hang around other more experienced surfers to pick up the “art of surfing”. More experienced surfers add great value for the young surfer; they can help them to develop their form, show them the best spots to surf, where the best waves are hitting, and also the how the determine the best weather to head to the beach.

Just as in the work place, more experienced friends and mentors will provide encouragement to you on and after the stressful days. Remember, we are not meant to do life alone, this includes work, you need to find good people you can trust to share experiences with and learn from theirs.

4)    If you keep getting knocked off your board every day, you may need to rethink your form and start taking surf lessons again.

If your daily routine becomes getting nailed by the waves every day, it may be time to trying something new at the office. Work should not feel like a continual assault day after day. If this describes the majority of your days at work, then you may need to rethink your planning or organization. As an idea, rethink how you plan you day. Do you write down goals? If not, start. Do you have a safety net? If no, try it out. Talk with others and observe more experienced surfers. From what you observe, experiment with new possibilities and more efficient ways to complete your work. Remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.

5) Don’t let a few days of having rough waves discourage you.

Remember, nothing worth doing is easy. Part of surfing, or working in a meaningful job, is that it’s exciting to have a challenge and then growing to overcome it! You’re going to have good days and also stressful days, but don’t let that discourage you from going back out again the following day. Who knows, the most beautiful ocean and best waves could be waiting for you.

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