Don't Take Every Opportunity; Just Ask a Surfer

A new friend of mine is a prolific surfer and instructor. I asked him one day why you always see tight clusters of surfers waiting for a wave together, and how when the wave comes, they almost always collectively - without communicating - decide on only one surfer to ride it. He explained it like this:

“Just because it's a good wave doesn't mean they should take it. Good surfers know how to wait for THEIR wave. All of them measure three key aspects in parallel. Typically, only one surfer meets all their criteria, and they stand to ride the wave.”

Here is how they do it: 

  • Position. As the wave approaches the shore, surfers will determine if they are too far left, too far right, too deep or shallow. They gauge this in a span of seconds, and a matter of inches. Are they lined up with the break? Do they have the right angle? Can they match the wave’s speed? A correct — or incorrect — estimation will determine the quality of the ride.
  • Timing. A surfer needs to catch a wave right before it breaks — essentially in a matter of milliseconds. Too early and there isn’t enough momentum to propel them forward. Too late and they end up falling, or at best riding chopped-up water. The timing is usually only perfect for one surfer.
  • Feel. I expected the third component to be skill (e.g., “Am I capable of riding this wave?”) Instead, my friend explained that it is more about feel. Good surfers assess the energy of the wave, tap their intuition, and go if it feels right. Feel includes a capability assessment, but is not limited to merely that — which is essential for surfing (and life, in my opinion).

As business leaders, we are bombarded with opportunities that we should be taking, technologies we should be investing in, and businesses we should be starting/buying/exploring. But, not every opportunity should be taken by YOU — even if it’s perfect for someone else. It is hard to watch others succeed at something I/we could be doing — just as it’s hard for surfers to wait for their wave. But, if you want a good ride, you must accept it and trust another wave is coming. Practicing this prepares you to make the determination.

Are you in the right position? Is it the right timing? Does it feel right?

If it is not, let someone else have a great ride and cheer them on. However, if the attributes of the wave are check-check-check, then it might be time to go-go-go!

This post originally appeared on Medium.

Don't Take Every Opportunity; Just Ask a Surfer

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