Resistance is a funny thing, isn’t it? We all do it: convince ourselves something isn’t right, find evidence to support our theory, and build a case against whatever it is that we’re resisting. What’s profound is that what we fight the most is often exactly what we need.
I was witness to my own two-fold form of resistance recently and I couldn’t be happier that I lost my case.
Not too long ago I returned from the most beautiful, magical, and thrilling family surf trip in Costa Rica. In the weeks leading up to our holiday, my husband Victor and I both complained that we were just too busy with work to take the trip (part one of my resistance.) We even went as far as trying to change our flights, which proved too costly. We reluctantly went on the trip and I’m embarrassed to say that we remained ever so slightly disgruntled the whole flight there, sticking our heads in our computers and working all the way to paradise.
This is where part two of my resistance came in. I had surfed only a handful of times in Montauk with my son’s teacher before surfing in CR last year. We had an incredible time, despite my lack of experience, but for some reason the thought of surfing this year was daunting. I didn’t have the heart to tell Jivan, who was beaming with excited to share the experience with his parents that it was all over his Instagram, so I booked surf lessons with Mick, our Aussie instructor.
Until the very last minute, even with my wetsuit on and surfboard in hand heading into the sea, I was trying to find an excuse not to step into that water. I could fake an ankle twist – that happens when walking on the beach, I thought. I considered stomach issues – last nights white fish might have been bad. Or, maybe it’s that time of the month – always a good reason to stay out of the water, right? Why was I doing this???
Because I am a control freak. I like to know the outcome of everything. I like to keep my life neat and tidy, tidy and neat. Mugs facing the same way – check. Glasses arranged on the shelves ranging from highest to lowest – naturally. And Christmas – there are shopping lists and schedules and menus leading up to the day – a detailed series of events that need to take place in a regimented order for Christmas to even be Christmas. I like to know that when I do something, I will do it well and not be thrown a curve ball that I might not be able to handle. Not knowing what to do and the fear of failure scares the hell out of me.
My controlling ways manifest themselves in a sort of perfectionism that plays out in many aspects of my life.
Not long ago in an attempt to delegate I sent my design assistant to the D & D building to source a slightly nubby natural linen upholstery for a clients chaise. I knew I was seeking a specific tactile quality, needless to say after a timely detailed explanation and specific list of vendors to visit I ended up going with her just to be absolutely sure she got it right. I am all over everything, all of the time – never leaving a mere inch of room for someone else’s input.
If I plan to make a meal for friends and family, I need to know it will be exceptional. A collaborative cooking weekend at my Amagansett house with friends usually turns into the Athena show. Just last weekend I gave my very competent dear friend Val the task of cutting tomatoes for salsa – when I saw she was cutting them crosswise instead of lengthwise I cringed, rushed over and shooed her away, telling her to “relax, I can handle this”. I’ll also research a recipe for days, reading 40 reviews on Epicurious and taking bits and bobs from other recipes to assemble what I deem to be the perfect one. If I serve something less than exceptional, I am miserable. I do everything – or at least want to – at 200%. It’s EXHAUSTING.
Sometimes it can be beneficial, like when I turn out an unforgettable dinner party. It can also be debilitating. For well over a decade, my quest for perfection has been an obstacle to success in every career I’ve attempted, and believe me, there have been many. I’ve embarked on at least five professional paths throughout my 20’s and 30’s: modeling, acting, singing, songwriting, and styling – every time I hit a little snag or faced rejection, I’d feel insecurity creeping in and give up. Most often I would self-sabotage by instituting unrealistic expectations upon myself. When I was on the acting path my extreme perfectionism paralyzed me with fear of failure and stymied any potential creativity. Rather than embracing the talent that I had, I continually set the bar too high and then ripped myself apart. I’ll never forget the time a fellow actor offered a mere critique in a late night class. I used this as evidence of my inabilities, which sent me into a self-loathing tailspin resulting in my husband having to pick me up off the floor in ball of tears. I never allowed myself to sit in discomfort and push through it. I didn’t want to fail so I walked away and ultimately felt defeated. Seems silly now but this became a repetitious cycle.
Surfing triggered my fear of failure and the unknown. My hesitance wasn’t in getting up on the board and riding the wave in – that part came easier to me. It was paddling out through the breaking waves with the potential of getting tossed from the board that really scared the hell out of me. That would be the ultimate loss of control.
I have never been an ocean girl. Even at a young age at the beach with my mom, I would squeeze her hand and jump over waves that merely reached my knees and run right back out of the water. I never knew how to navigate the ocean and desperately tried to avoid it – it just wasn’t fun for me. I knew how to swim, and swam well, but I never understood the mechanics of a wave. It was only a few years ago that Jivan taught the secret to surviving a barreling wave that came crashing towards me – I simply had to dive under it. I’m more comfortable in the water now, but learning to surf was a new opportunity to fail.
It also wasn’t lost on me that this wonderful and terrifying week echoed some of my process at my most recent creative endeavor, eyeswoon, a lifestyle blog that combines all of my passions – food, design, and style. When I set out to create it, I simply wanted to share beautiful things, things that inspired me visually. I never really thought about the writing as I’m not a writer. Every time I sat down to write a piece, I would generate a billion excuses as to why I couldn’t and shouldn’t write. Those old habits, insecurities, voices telling me to give up, seeped in. But if I ignored those doubting voices, struggled a bit, stopped resisting, maybe something good, even magical, could transpire. Every time I start a new post, it’s an opportunity to start anew, to take risks, to maybe suck…and maybe not – not unlike every time I embarked on a new wave.
So, here is what I learned. The ocean in its vastness is wild. You don’t have control of the waves, but you kind of do have control of yourself. Each day I learned a little bit more. I would paddle out to a wave and get flustered, not knowing what to do in that split second when it was coming toward me, but then I would remind myself to grab my leash and dive under the wave. And here’s the profound bit that I learned through the week: Surfing is messy, waves are scary, the unknown is terrifying. And you can clench with fear all you want, panicking that the wave will throw you down to the ocean floor, but even if that happens, you will come back up to the surface, and you will be OK. And you will try again, and maybe next time it will be slightly better, and maybe it won’t—that’s the risk. But you will lose control and you will survive.
Waves aren’t neat and tidy, and neither is life. We need to be thrown around and sometimes we need to surrender to that in order to grow. I learned a lot about myself and my process—this was bigger than surfing.
For all my kicking and screaming about actually going on the trip, and then about getting in the water I ended up spending the entire week in nature, tuned off from the outside pressures of work, happy as a clam. I got to truly enjoy family time – just the three of us surfing, taking long walks on the beach with no one in sight, digging for crabs in the sand, dunking each other in the pool, playing Connect Four, watching ridiculously swoon-worthy sunsets at 5:45 every night, followed by an early dinner, and asleep by 9pm. It was perfection.
AND!!! On my last day surfing I caught an actual wave! My progress was immeasurable and I felt proud. I had a few bruises from some choice wipe outs and just when my ego was celebrating my long run on the largest wave of the trip, I got clobbered by a crashing wave and taken through the ringer. I was gasping and out of breath, churning through a set of consecutive waves. But none of them stopped me from popping up and trying again. So this is dedicated to you Jivan—thank you for inspiring me!