Is there something you’re enamored with? An idea that’s always intrigued you? A possibility that excites your heart, such that, if you ever got the opportunity, you’re sure you’d jump at it and invest whatever you had to?
I understand that feeling. Surfers call it chasing the stoke, and the reason I know that is that I spent much of my life feeling that way about surfing. And I learned from chasing that stoke that it can be a real trap – both in business and in life.
For most of my youth, I was very intrigued by surfing. I really wanted to try it. When my parents relocated us to Brazil during my teens, I met a friend there named Drew. He was into surfing and was willing to give me some tips and direction that would get me started. He gave me some good advice, too, like not investing a lot of money right way on a new board. (A used one would suffice for my level, he explained.)
He was willing to take me to the beach, help me get some wax on my board and get me out in the waves. I was, you might say, stoked.
Then my adventure started, and suddenly the learning became a lot more difficult. Drew was great in the run-up to my first time out, but once we were in the water I realized he had reached the limit of what he could do to help me. He was a buddy who knew some things about surfing, but he wasn’t a coach.
Suddenly I realized that this experience was a lot like running a marathon. You had to paddle out a long ways to be able to catch a wave. You had to know how to duck waves as you went, and you had to know the right moments to paddle. These are just a few examples of how surfing is much more complicated than it looks.
And I was out there without a coach, and without any real sense of what I was getting into. Instantly, I came to understand why so many others I’d met had chased the stoke and given up. This is really hard, and if you don’t have anyone to guide you through it, it’s only natural to feel like you need to quit.
I didn’t quit, but I never became a top-rate surfer either. I actually still surf occasionally (in fact, sometimes I still surf with Drew), but I’m never going to realize the dream of being great at it, because what it would take to do that, I’m just not prepared to give.
Yet I went right after it the first time I got a chance, because I was so enamored and I wanted to chase the stoke! I’m not sorry I did, but I learned what can happen when you’re not careful about chasing the stoke.
The application for business should be obvious: It’s one thing to be enamored with an idea, but do you really understand what it would take to pursue it successfully? Do you know the investment it would require? Do you understand what the day-to-day experience would be like? Do you know the sacrifices you would have to make?
If a young person came to me and said he or she was considering going to medical school, I would advise following a doctor around for a few days. If you’re in love with the idea of being a stock broker, ask a few if you can shadow them.
And don’t just follow them around. Ask questions. Find out what it requires of them. Find out what they had to invest in getting to where they are. Also, find out who has helped them along the way, and is still helping them.
Because no one can keep rising forever without help. To understand why, let’s go back to my first surfing trip with Drew. He was helpful with some of the starter stuff, but as I said, he was not a coach. He wasn’t able to help me very much once my board and I were out on the water.
If I had actually paid a surfing coach, I would have had more dedicated and more capable help and support. I would have known more about what I was getting into, and I would have better understood what I needed to do to be successful. I would have been prepared for the sacrifices I had to make.
That doesn’t mean it’s Drew’s fault I never became great on the waves. Nothing was stopping me from hiring a coach. I didn’t do it and I’ve learned to live with my fate as a subpar surfer.
I’ve applied what I learned from that experience to my own approach as a business coach. I remember how hard it was trying to surf without anyone to show me the way, and I put myself in my clients’ shoes when I consider their business challenges. What might they be having a hard time working out that I can make easier for them? What issues are for them what that marathon paddling session and those tricky waves were for me?
And how can I be for them the coach that I was lacking off the coast of Brazil?
Are you chasing the stoke without being sure what it requires? Are you lacking a coach? Do you need to do your homework before you overinvest in something that may or may not be the right thing for you?
It’s great to be excited about something. I know the feeling. You can’t wait to get to it and you don’t want to do anything but get started.
But if it’s the right thing for you, then it will survive a little research and investigation. If you’re meant to do it, a coach will see that and affirm it. And you’ll have a much greater chance of success than if you’d just abandoned all restraint and chased the stoke.
Because as exciting as it is to chase that stoke, success is even better.
Written by: Wade Wyant
Red Wagon Advisors