Leaning into Fear Brings Growth

Have you ever been intrigued by an activity for a while before you either decided to try it or opted to stop thinking about it? That’s how stand up paddle boarding (SUP) was for me. The first time I saw photos of someone standing on a SUP, I felt fascinated by the physics of the whole thing. I knew I wanted to try it—eventually. Recalled terror of my first kayaking experience kept me focused on what might go wrong (ignoring that I eventually got over that fear and now love kayaking). Fear kept me from embracing new experiences and kept me small and safe.

Photo credit: Deborah Kevin, 2017.

Then last summer, while canoeing on the Danube River in Austria, I had the opportunity to SUP for the first time, and I enthusiastically jumped at the chance! We’d pulled our canoes upon the bank for a short break. Our guide and his dog dismounted their SUP, and I waded out into the water. He showed me how to mount, which I did with a distinct lack of grace.

Opting to stay on my knees to keep my center of gravity low, I paddled out into the river, staying close to the shore. A river cruise ship passed me, creating a generous wake for me to navigate and the current pulled me down river swiftly. I had a fun time working against the current while staying on the board. I was hooked.

Shortly after my return to the States, my friend Ellen generously offered to teach me how to SUP on a lake near her home. We tooled around the lake for a couple of hours, me standing stick upright. My biggest fear was falling into the lake. Not only did I not want to smell like fish, but I also wasn’t confident about my ability to get back on the board without having firm ground beneath my feet.

Luckily, I stayed on the board that time and the subsequent day we paddled together. Ellen’s a patient teacher, and I’m grateful for her skillful teaching. So when she invited me out to a SUP event for her business unit last week, I accepted. She’d previously invited me to participate in FloYo, a combination of yoga on a SUP. Secretly, I worried about falling into the creek, so I declined. Fears rose again of falling in the water. Would there be jellyfish? Would the creek stink of dead fish?

Photo credit: Deborah Kevin, 2018.

McNabb’s Creek Marina is home to MantraFit, a yoga and SUP studio. Eight of us learned how to set and use our paddles properly before using a floating dock to get onto our boards. I paddled confidently past the boat slips and into the creek. The others followed suit.

From our vantage point in the middle of the water, we saw a great blue heron take flight and a red-tailed hawk circle its unseen prey. Fish broke the water’s surface. Hot sun blazed down, and no breeze ruffled our hair. Our instructor Carleen challenged us to play “Simon Says.” The last one on her board would be rewarded with a free appetizer at lunch.

Carleen started us out easy. “Simon says hold your paddle above your head.” Through several maneuvers, we stayed afloat, albeit sometimes I wobbled violently. Then it happened.

“Simon says jump twice,” Carleen said.

One little hop. Wobble, wobble. Second hop. Tilt. “Oh, shit!” I yelled as I slipped off, plunging into the water. I came up sputtering, paddle still in my hand. My worst fear was realized, and I had no idea how to get back up on the board. Would I make an ass of myself as I attempted?

Carleen calmly talked me—and the three others who’d also fallen in—through the process. I heaved myself up on the edge of the board. I shimmied my way across and up, pausing to catch my breath before rising to my knees. I’d done it!

So when Carleen offered to teach me some FloYo moves, I enthusiastically accepted. I did cat and cow, a plank, downward facing dog, and pigeon pose before a dog-variation sent me plummeting again in the creek. I broke the surface laughing and easily remounted my board. It was such an enjoyable experience that I’m already looking forward to a sunrise FloYo class.

On my drive home, I got to pondering. All I’d focused on each time I’d SUP’d was not falling into the water. As a result, my movements were stiff, and I never tested—or expanded—the boundaries of what I could accomplish. Once I fell, I felt much more confident in my ability to recover. I also felt more relaxed and willing to try new things. What great lessons, not only for business but for life!

It’s when we fail and recover that we truly learn what we’re capable of. Fearing the worst just delays our opportunity for growth, and limits what we’re capable of achieving. And we go through life stiff and afraid, terrified of what people will think and say if we fail.

I’m thankful for the opportunities I’m given to learn these lessons. I’d love to share how I unlocked my fears to live a life of abundance and joy. Join me on this Journey!



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