“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Like the microprocessor in Silicon Valley, the sport of surfing was forever changed by the invention of the surf leash. The simple idea of tying your foot to your surfboard with a rubber cord eliminated any repercussions of wiping out on a wave and losing your board. The ripple effect of this was a fundamental reshaping of the sport over the next decade.
Before the leash, surfing not only mandated good swimming and paddling skills, but it required a more conservative approach to the wave you were riding. If you fell and lost your board into the beach, the consequences included a swim in to the beach, a more difficult paddle back out (against incoming waves), and maybe a couple hours in your garage doing ding repair if rocks or another person’s board got involved. Surfing in the 60’s included a lot of swimming, paddling, and ding repair.
According to Corky Carroll in his article “Humble beginnings of surf leash”, Pat O’Neill, son of famous wetsuit inventor Jack O’Neill, is generally acknowledged for inventing the modern surf leash in 1971. A lost board at Steamer’s Lane meant almost certain death on the rocks, so it is easy to see how that came about. Interestingly, the surf leash is how Jack O’Neill lost his left eye, as the early versions were made from a surgical cord that would shoot the board back faster than you wanted after a wipeout. Ouch!
With the invention of the leash, short boards quickly evolved (from long boards) as a new slash-and-tear style of surfing emerged that required minimal foot movement on the surfboard. Suddenly there was no penalty for trying something beyond your abilities on a wave as the surf leash began a revolution of what was possible while riding a wave. It was analogous to the safety net of the flying trapeze artists.
For those of us who had grown up surfing without a leash, this new invention was not all good news. My friends and I called it the “kook cord”. Most troublesome was the increase in crowds, as nobody had to swim in for their board when they fell. It was as if the entire skateboarding community suddenly was able to surf and never lost their board when they wiped out. It also brought people out at breaks they had no right to be surfing, giving them a false sense of security on waves they would normally not even try and catch. Paddling out even became a challenge if you were navigating through the kelp.
Today, when conditions allow, I love to leave the leash behind. I immediately feel a sense of freedom and relief from the safety belt effect of having this plastic cord tied to my leg. This is how I learned, how it seems surfing should be. There is an exciting sense of risk and danger in trying a difficult move (like “hanging five”), knowing you could lose your board to the beach if you fall. It gives me the freedom to move up and down the board without hindrance or danger of getting tangled on the cord. My surfboard becomes a part of me that I will hang on to at all costs if I do fall or go through a big wave. The exhilaration (“stoke”) of a good long ride without a leash takes on greater joy, often kicking out with a brief howl to awaken my soul. It takes me back to my roots of who I am as a surfer and reminds me how the ocean has been a part of my growth as a human being. Through that process I have become a stronger and better surfer, it’s a wonderful thing. It’s about life; learning and developing as we take our spills each day.
Taking off the leash in life
After 25 years in the high tech industry in Silicon Valley, I took a one-year sabbatical to become a certified New Ventures West Integral Coach®, or in more common terms, a Professional Life Coach. Those 12 months were all about taking off my leash and learning to live daringly without the Oracle security blanket. If you read Hit over the head by a 2×4, you know that I had been riding the Silicon Valley Express train that had me so wound up on a daily basis, that I lost track of who I was. I didn’t have time for that!
This change in lifestyle was dramatic for me and my family. In my New Ventures West coaching class, it became clear that I had to grow and develop myself before I could become proficient at coaching others. We were taught about “island hopping”, which is the natural progression of humans to constantly strive to get ahead in life by building a bigger and faster boat to get you to the next island of your dreams. A Tony Robbins term for this is “CANI” (constant and never-ending improvement). It’s what Silicon Valley is all about. I’ll always remember the picture drawn on the whiteboard in our class of a stick figure man on the left ==> a body of water in the middle ==> and an island on the right, with the comment: “Constantly trying to get life to turn out in the future.” There’s no time to be present. God forbid we stop and smell the roses. We just look ahead to the next island and start designing the next boat to get there. Faster. And life is passing us by.
That 12-month break from the Silicon Valley Express train allowed me to remove my leash to experience the freedom and joy of who I really am. I’d be lying if I told you it was easy. I fall a lot these days, but am learning to enjoy the swim and gaining strength from the experience, knowing that I am growing along the way. I feel a sense of freedom I have not felt in years. I am learning to listen deeply and let life teach me where I want to go. It is a marvelous thing. My coaching is all about helping you to take your leash off and give it a try. It can be a life-changing experience. Here are a few testimonials from my clients who have been brave enough to take the plunge.
Bronnie Ware took off her leash and learned to live a life around who she found herself to truly be. This book is a memoir about her journey, which led her to care for the needs of the dying. What was most interesting to me was how her life was transformed by that experience of tending to those who were in their final days on this earth. The top five regrets were interesting, but what I admired in Bronnie’s story was her honesty about too many years doing unfulfilling work and how she was able to break that mold to live the life she felt she was called to. This is not a Christian pilgrimage, but a simple retelling of how one can learn to listen carefully to our internal compass in life.
Here is a quick recap of the “Top Five Regrets” verbatim off her website (in case you were curious):
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.
When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.
Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.