Lessons on Transformation: Expect Setbacks

Photo by MarDestinee Perez

Three weeks ago, I finally had the courage and motivation to check paddle-boarding off my bucket list (read about it here). I had such a great experience that I couldn't wait to go again. My cousin is a regular paddle-boarder and we made plans to meet on Sunday at Glorietta Bay Park, just off of Silver Strand in Coronado (her favorite spot). It had been some time since my first lesson, but I was feeling confident that it would be easy enough to get back on the board.

I guess you can say I got kind of cocky, because as soon as we got out on the water, I realized I'd forgotten how to stand. I was kneeling on all four as Sam taught me, but the board felt unstable and my legs felt wobbly. Paralyzed with fear and unable to get up, I also noticed that the bay seemed a lot more open than where I had my first lesson. The ocean here was deeper and choppier. Suddenly I felt WAY more vulnerable and afraid. WTF?!?

Probably wondering if I'd take any lessons at all, my cousin kindly suggested that we pull over to a nearby shore and practice standing up on the paddle board a few times. As I recalled the motions, I realized I had missed an important step. After getting down on all fours, I was supposed to extend my legs back and give myself plenty of space before placing my right foot forward and then get into a squatting position to stand.

Practicing the sequence a couple of times before getting back in the water helped me relax, but my confidence had taken a dive and didn't fully recover. Thinking back to how confident I was just earlier that morning, I now felt pretty ridiculous and embarrassed. I clearly overestimated my ability and bravery. What a fraud! Everything in me wanted to head back to shore where I would be safe.

Perhaps it was my ego not wanting my cousin to think I was full of shit, but I resisted the urge to quit. She wanted to stop at a coffee shop near the Ferry pier, the halfway point, before returning. I didn't want to disappoint her or ruin her plans after she'd been nice enough to invite me along. So I readily agreed we should go there. It took us about an hour to arrive.

Paddleboarding near the Coronado Bridge

By the time we finished our coffee and started heading back, my legs felt weak from all the effort and tension involved in holding myself up. I fell on my knees a few times but eventually I got back up again. I started to trust that my wobbly legs would support me.

Near the shore, with our final destination in plain sight, a kayaker was headed straight toward me. I tried to get out of her way and she tried to do the same, but we were both clearly inexperienced and collided. Instinctively, I dropped to my knees and grounded myself. Miraculously, my board did not tip over. I pushed myself away and quickly got back on my feet without a second thought. For the first time since learning how to paddleboard, I didn't think about how to get up. I was no longer recalling steps or mechanics. When called to react, my body just knew what to do.

I share this story for a few reasons.

  1. When we learn something new or embark on change, we often experience setbacks. This is part of the process of transformation and not a sign that one is doomed for failure, inadequate, or incapable of changing. New habits and skills take TIME to develop. Approach each change with a beginner's mindset. If you experience a lapse or regression, don't be discouraged. Stay with your practice and know that your progress may not be linear, and that's just fine.

  2. Sometimes, we need to get out of our heads and into our bodies to experience lasting transformation. Our minds are powerful and often do the heavy lifting but we may overthink, overanalyze, and second guess ourselves to the point of sabotaging our own success. Trust that you will know what to do when the time comes. Don't rely solely on your mind to let you know when you are ready. Your body is a powerful source of information if you open your awareness and start listening with all your senses.

  3. It may feel scary and vulnerable to step outside of your comfort zone. Fear of failure, judgment, and ridicule can be overwhelming. If you are highly functional and used to learning things easily, be PATIENT and COMPASSIONATE with yourself. Don't expect that growth will always feel wonderful and exciting, because it won't. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and experience some discomfort before quitting or deciding that you just don't have it in you. Because you do.

We are capable of so much more than we think. Yes, you too!