How can I stop being average?

Originally posted on Quora, answering the question: How can I stop being average. Follow me on Quora.

“Life expands or contracts depending on one’s courage.” – Anais Nin

I sat on a rocky point in El Salvador as the biggest swell in 10 years tore through the surf break. Monstrous waves reeled down the point and stormed into the bay, breaking over the pier at the end of the bay. The wave faces were 20-30 feet.

The previous day, the break had been packed with 50 or more local surfers in the 10 ft surf. It has been so crowded that it was hard to even get a wave. None of those locals were anywhere to be seen today. Not on the point, not on the beach nor the pier.

Multiple surfers had tried before us to paddle out through the break to get to the waves and only 3 had made it out. They sat dwarfed by the size of the waves coming through. The waves were easily 10 ft bigger than anything else I had surfed. I was tired from a week of non stop surfing, and my board was too small for the surf.

There were a thousand reasons I had not to paddle out; but I told myself that I wanted one of those waves. I was filled with fear. I knew the longer I watched this spectacle, the more the fear would set in. So I cleared my head, walked to the edge of the water and paddled my ass off. I made it out. My friends got swept through to the break on three separate attempts to get out.

The fear didn’t end with just paddling out into the surf. Now I had to paddle into one of these beasts. The waves were truly monstrous. Every 10 minutes, we’d see the hint of a set on the horizon that seemed bigger than the last, and the 5 of us out there would paddle to the horizon will a mad fervor and our heart in our throats to avoid being caught inside.

I ended up only catching a couple waves that day; but every moment of the memory still stands out to me 10 years later. In terms of skills, I remain a completely mediocre surfer; but paddling out that day crushed anything average about my surfing ability. Not many surfers have every paddled out and survived 30 ft surf.

“How can a man be brave if he’s afraid?” Rob Stark asked his father.  “A man can be brave only when he’s afraid.” Rob Stark – George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones [TV]

There was a recent short documentary about big waves surfers at a particular surf break in Mexico (Puerto Escondido). These surfers were taking on 40-50 ft waves. Waves so powerful they would drown all but a handful of the best surfers. The surfers describe wipe-outs as being as jarring as car crashes.

These guys are typically described as fearless in the press and in advertisements, but the truth is far from it. They talked about fear being so bad as to keep them awake all night the night before. They live on a precipice of fear. One surfer talked about how the high he’d get surfing big waves was a mix of equal parts fear and adrenaline.

The truth is: it’s human to have to fear. Without fear, we either don’t understand what we’re doing or are completely reckless. You don’t vanquish fear; you embrace it and learn to live with it.

It’s not that being average means you’re afraid, it’s more than you don’t know you’re courageous and don’t know what being courageous can do in your life. You may also believe that courage is something innate. People have it or don’t. Courage isn’t a trait; it’s an action. One we’re all capable of.

Being courageous also just doesn’t mean doing activities that put your life on the line. It means in most cases recognizing what’s holding you back from your ambitions and goals and confronting those challenges.  It’s pushing your comfort zone and overcoming voices in your head that promote doubt, say you’re not worthy or that something is out of reach.

There’s a lot of ways to be average (not setting goals, not working hard, not creating a positive, supportive environment, and hundreds of others); but the fastest way to stop being average is to recognize the possibilities of living with courage and doing so.


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