“Find it, set your eyes on it, and watch the horizon.”
This message was delivered to me in a most unexpected way, and from a most unexpected source. These words have remained with me, as leadership and learning wisdom, especially through uncertain times.
The first time I heard these words, I was likely somewhere between falling off, getting back on, or (least likely) standing upright on a paddle board. We were in the Pacific Ocean.
Paddle boarding, enjoyed by many, has long been an activity I’ve strategically avoided. As relaxing as most people find it, I have found quite the opposite, as it’s brought the worst of my anxiousness and fear (and the exhausting efforts to manage these feelings) out.
And now, I’m doing it in the Pacific Ocean…and not well, I might add.
But this was vacation, a once-in-a-lifetime celebration of love, of family, of togetherness. I was with the four people who matter most in my life. Also accompanying us was a California surfer, originally from Idaho, now living in Maui. This guy maneuvered a paddle board better than I can walk. And he would become one of the best teachers I’ve met, the right person at the right time.
The guide had sensed my apprehension almost immediately. And while I had just wished to be left alone, to fall off my paddle board seven times and get up eight, this guy would not let me be, to mutter and wallow in my own self-pity. He’d decided, I was going to be a paddle boarder, whether I liked it or not. He had seen this before, knowing, this had little to do with a paddle board.
So as the four others glided effortlessly and playfully on their boards, this guide remained patiently by my side or within my line of sight. He saw something in me that he knew I hadn’t…yet. He saw that I was drowning in my own negative thoughts and self-talk. He was committed to do what he had likely done for dozens of people before me – not giving up, continuously encouraging, and remaining by my side. He refused to let me quit on myself, no matter what.
He could sense that I was at times, reluctantly reassured by his approach. Seeing me get back up one more time than I had fallen down, he challenged me to find the horizon, telling me this would help to stabilize by shaking lower half, that was causing my imbalance that inevitably ended in a splash.
“Find the horizon, set your eyes on it, and watch.”
I will never forget the feeling that led up to my first successfully paddle board. The moment my eyes found the horizon. The rhythmic breathing, in through my nose, out through my mouth, “following my breath”, a helpful skill I developed through running and meditation (neither of which was done on a paddle board). I The voice in my head, telling me the whole way to watch the horizon. As these words replaced those that were in my head before, the shaking of every muscle left my body, replaced by my new mantra, as I set my eyes steadily on the horizon.
I was paddle boarding. And I had an unexpected teacher with unexpected words of wisdom, to thank for it.
That day, no exaggeration, I likely fell off my paddle board no fewer than 100 times. But I got up 101 times. And I had a tool to use, moving forward, now with others who, like me, would prefer to be left alone so they could give up. My wife and kids, despite the playful ribbing associated with the repeated predictable splashes coming from my direction, told me that they noticed that I never gave up. I told them that I never stopped finding an setting my eyes on the horizon.
I have long been convinced that we are surrounded by opportunities, and by people willing to help. All it takes is an awareness of these opportunities, an open mind and heart, and a willingness to be vulnerable, to fail, and to grow. In turn, this has served to remind me to be that person for others.
In times of uncertainty, we can sometimes feel as though we are alone, paddling, in the middle of the ocean. Struggling to stay afloat, struggling to see the horizon. But we can also remind ourselves of countless opportunities to progress, and the willing guides who accompany us on these journeys, those who remind us to look for the horizon.