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Lessons from the surf: a brief reflection

I have just returned from spending the past week in the Outer Banks (OBX) of North Carolina with a group of 13 friends, most of whom are current or former grad students at Queen’s.

The 7 days spent away from Kingston were technically a vacation; however, this trip was quite a departure from your typical ‘lounging on the beach’ vacation.  If you have never been to or heard of the OBX/Cape Hatteras, it is basically a massive playground for wind (kiteboarding, windsurfing, hang-gliding, etc.) and water activities (surfing, skim boarding, scuba diving, etc.).  Our group dabbled in a few different activities; however, surfing was the primary focus for the group.

Ira confronted by a difficult choice

Ira confronted by a difficult choice

We rented surfboards from the most cliché of surf-bums who were stoked to share their experiences and pointers for ‘successful’ navigation of the surf.  While it may be tough to imagine the stereotypical surfer as a philosopher, I’d argue that (some) of these water-logged locals could share some unique reflections on life, as learned while surfing.

I began to feel like a street-corner philosopher after spending 6 days on a board, experiencing the highs and lows of surfing, and being humbled by the unrelenting constancy of breaking waves.  Following each session on the water, our collective discussions always seemed to steer towards drawing parallels between surfing and aspects of life (including grad school).

In keeping with our Gradifying theme of using your summer to decompress while staying on track for September, I’d like to provide a couple of reflections as discussed by our group from this past week that will hopefully provide you with some perspective and insight as your progress with your work this summer.

#1 – Work hard to get past the breaking waves

One of the biggest joys of surfing is undoubtedly catching a wave and going for a ride.  What people may not tell you is that paddling beyond the breaking waves can be physically and emotionally exhausting, especially for those relatively new to the sport.  You can expect with certainty to be knocked off your board half a dozen times and take liter of sea water up your nose before reaching calmer waters.  However, battling through the turbulent sections ultimately pays off in the end and puts you in optimal position to catch a wave.

Like surfing, one of the biggest joys of grad school is harvesting the fruits of your labour (whatever they may be).  And like surfing, the process of reaping your reward will likely involve repeated waves of being knocked down.

If you find yourself getting smashed by waves of edits/failed experiments/moments of confusion this summer, just keep paddling, and allow discipline and persistence to guide you to calmer waters

I caught the wave but my friend's ride didn't quite pan out (yellow surf board, middle-right)

I caught the wave but my friend’s ride didn’t quite pan out (yellow surf board, middle-right)

#2 –Wait for your wave: be patient and forget what has passed

After paddling past the break it’s time to catch a wave!  But waiting for the right wave sometimes requires the patience of a Buddhist monk and the memory of a goldfish.  Patience because the right wave will eventually come if you wait for it, and a short memory because no good can come out of dwelling on failed or missed opportunities.

At times a rolling swell has all the trappings of a perfect wave but never pans out as such.  Other times, a seemingly inconsequential swell will develop into a perfect barrelling wave.  It can be rather infuriating to commit to a wave that doesn’t pan out or to let the barrelling beauty pass; however, rest assured more waves will come.  There is neither value nor utility in focusing any of your attention on the previous waves.

This point especially resonates with me when I consider the ups and downs of data collection and analysis.   I’m sure you can recall those times where a golden opportunity was missed or a seemingly sure thing never panned out.  Although time constraints may make it difficult to heed this advice, take only the lesson from the experience, leave the rest behind, and focus on the next opportunity.


#3 – Celebrate each ride, even if you get tossed

This point is pretty simple: celebrate (and appreciate) those moments when you catch a wave, regardless of whether or not you stand up.

After all, what’s the point of all your hard work if you don’t celebrate the ride?

Leanne finishing her ride

Lianne finishing her ride

Posted in All, General, Staying Well, Student Perspective, Uncategorized Tagged with: , , ,

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