The Illusion of Stability & the Joy of Doing

By Scott Westerman

When Colleen and I visited Hawaii, one of the first places we explored was the famed Waimea Bay. The Beach Boys sang about it in Surfin USA and I wanted to see, up close, how those boys and girls “with their feet full of tar and their full of sand” attacked the rollers.

They make it look easy.. But it isn’t.

Back in the late 60s, I spent summers at Port Sheldon on Lake Michigan. We had long boards then, and if the wind was right, the Big Lake could swirl up some significant surf.

surfin_usa-752058We had to paddle out against an incredible power that was trying to press us back to shore. When we finally got out to that place where waves are born, we scanned the churning waters for the subtle signs of what might be a good wave to ride. Once we had selected one, it was a weird combination of art and science to catch it. You have to paddle for just the right time, stand up just as the wave crests and hold your balance while you did your best to ride it in.. in style.

Sometimes the wave would turn out to be a dud. Sometimes you didn’t time it right and it passed you by. Sometimes you got there too fast and would slide over the crest and roll in discomfort and danger in the depths of mother natures blender. And even if you caught the crest, it was oh so easy to lose your balance and fall before you finished the ride. If you’re doing all of this at Waimea Bay, another dimension is added: Sharks. Ask Bethany Hamilton about that interesting distraction.

And so it is with life.

The direction, location and power of the waves change. New predators (competitors) emerge. Surfboard technology improves, and surfers re-invent every step of the process, all in pursuit of the perfect ride on the perfect wave.

This is happening at many companies right now. Products with a unique selling proposition are becoming commoditized. Revenues may not be growing as fast as they used to. And many firms have to totally reinvent themselves to better ride the waves.

I got an up-close-and-personal feel for this when I was charged with consolidating one of our outposts recently. It included the elimination of positions for a number of folks, some who had ridden the waves of change with us for 20 years plus.

Together, we went through all the stages of grief and a common theme was, “This was such a stable job. We’re doing so well, why does it have to change?”

waimea-resized-600These surfers hadn’t been watching the water. As the competition heats up, more surfers want to ride the same wave. New technologies are calming the revenue waters at our beach and making waves up the street. And all along, we were surfing the same beach with the same gear at the same time, expecting a great ride.

Talk to any elite athlete or successful business person and they will tell you that there is no such thing as stability. Needs change. Products and services come and go. And life is a constant exercise in re-invention.

The waves are always changing so we need to change too. As employees, we’re the surfers. The company is our surfboard. Our competitors are the sharks And the marketplace is the wave.

We need to constantly be scanning the ocean to figure out which market has that magical combination of profitability and joy that makes for a great career day. We need to choose our surf boards carefully. They should be well built and well designed to ride the waves we choose. And we need to develop our skills, stamina and attitude so that we are able to jump on the board and ride the waves as best as we can, learning from our wipe outs, and not getting too confident that one good ride will instantly produce another.

mihaly_csikszentmihalyiI’ve never learned how to pronounce Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi‘s name, but his masterwork is a book called “Flow“. He dispels the common myth that the destination is what life is all about. Behave and you’ll get candy. Do well on your tests and you will earn a degree. M.C. believes that it’s the journey, not the destination, where the true joy of living resides.

Have you ever felt a moment of exuberance when you’re in the middle of doing something that you really love? Colleen says that I’m “in the zone”, when immersed in the nuances of a spreadsheet formula, or working on recording a new song on my multi-track recording gear. Long distance runners report the same thing when the endorphins kick in and it feels like they could run forever.

According to Wikipedia, flow is “a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand…The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task.”

If you’ve been in that state, you know what it’s like and you seek more opportunities to spend time there.

The good news is, that you can get to that space even if your company takes away your surfboard. Here are the steps:

First, think about what really makes you happy. When you felt the Flow state, what were you doing? What job would you do if you were already rich and working for love and not for money?

Once you’ve figured that out (and as your life progresses your joy may change), think about how you can manifest it. Talk to people who are in that space. How did they get there? What skills to they have? Who do they interact with?

Then, begin to act like the person who already has what you seek. How do they dress? What behaviors do they develop? How do they deal with failure? Where do they live? What do they drive? What fitness plan do they have? How have they visualized where they want to be five years from now.. and what goals have they set to get there?

Earl Nightingale’s wise maxim, “We become what we think about”, is the key here. Act now as the person you would like to become and you WILL become that person.

This is a powerful thing, so be careful. It’s as easy to become a failure as it is to become a success. Get stuck in negative emotions, defeatist attitudes and feelings of unworthiness and you will attract like people and become unworthy.

So think positive thoughts, look for opportunity amidst challenges. And develop habits and relationships that can help you become the person you want to be.

Companies and jobs don’t have futures. People do.

The wave and the surfboard don’t feel the Joy. The surfer does.

So enjoy the ride.