Work-life balance makes sense on a surfboard


2012 Aug ITFS

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

Work-life balance is a topic that I used to avoid with my clients — because I didn’t believe in it. “An impossible goal!,” I’d proclaim, “Balance is not a destination to be reached like the Great Wall of China.” How would you know when you arrived at this ephemeral state? I imagined work-life balance as a circus act of spinning plates: you keep everything rotating at the same time, catching one aspect of life or work before the plate fell and shattered to the floor. Trying to keep up and aspiring to an impossible outcome was exhausting and anxiety inducing. Work is life and life is work, right?

Looking for work-life balance? Ha! You might as well search for unicorns, pots of gold at the end of rainbows, yetis or the Loch Ness monster.

See, I’d been consumed by work. I don’t know that I always loved it, but having achieved success, momentum and impact, I knew who I was professionally without a doubt.

With that much invested in my career, you can only imagine what happened to me when I had to stop working, and then when I needed to go back after taking five years off to be raise my children at home full-time.

I was lost. I knew who I was when I worked but I wasn’t that anymore, I knew who I was as a wife and mother, but that wasn’t going to help pay the bills.  I felt like I’d been out of the game for so long that I was professionally irrelevant. I was no longer the person who could travel, manage teams and be “on” 24/7. It was devastating. I didn’t have the confidence to see my life as more than my work, and I had to work again, and I couldn’t figure it out. I was stuck and there was no where for me to go.

Courage to try, even though I felt like I was faking it, got me part of the way. Experience finding myself again once I did go back to work taught me a new story. It took a while and it was hard. I wish there was something like Into the Fire to help me see that:
– Change didn’t have to be so serious
– Change didn’t have to be hard
– Change doesn’t have to take forever


Surfing is a great metaphor for work-life balance; when you have a clear focused intention, are present and aware, are connected to yourself and everything around you, you can ride the waves of life. Off balance…wipeout.

It takes courage to get out there: to face the unknown. To find your center when everything around you is constantly changing. To get up and try again when you’ve been pummeled by yet another wave. It takes courage to believe that things could be different when it feels like you’re drowning. It takes courage to face fears – what’s in the water? Am I a good enough swimmer? Can I really do this? Do I want to do this? Courage is choosing to say yes, again and again; leadership is stepping into the unknown with a vision of how you want things to be and being in the adventure of how things are.

And the moment when you stand up on a board for the first time, riding a wave, feeling the power of the ocean supporting you, connected to the sun, the air, the water, your own breath and the smile that extends from your face down to your heart and all the way to your toes … it’s exhilarating. There is no other feeling like this.

Into the Fire is an invitation to do life differently. We play games and do activities to see where you’re stuck and choose something new. We laugh a lot, and create a safe place to learn by making mistakes. We also spend a large part of the day in the ocean (in wetsuits provided by our surf company), playing in the water and learning to surf. There is freedom and magic – and dolphins!


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