So how does a guy who rides a board and hangs out with people that say “dude” a lot, have any wisdom for the high-powered corporate gods of Wall Street or the political wizards of Washington? Laird Hamilton in his book, Force of Nature: Mind, Body, Soul, And, of Course, Surfing, lays out several life lessons that if we all started to use life might just get better for everybody.

  • You reap what you sow. Hamilton believes himself to be an instant karma guy, which means his feedback is almost always immediate (Hamilton 149). If he said something unkind with a few seconds he will stub his toe or some other mishap will occur. For us, while karma may not always have immediate feedback as it does on Lairds’ case, it certainly does come back. We’ve been told our entire lives is true: what comes around goes around. There is a story of a man who went around saying bad things about others. When he went to the priest for confession, his penance was to take the bag of feathers to the top of the highest hill and dump them on the ground. Then he was to come back a week later to the priest. When he returned, the priest told him the rest of his penance: go pick up all the feathers. The man said that this was impossible because in a weeks time the wind would’ve carried the feathers far and away, and he has no idea where they are now. The priest said “precisely, that is what happens when you say things about people. Good or bad, your words are now in the world and beyond your control.” In today’s world with Facebook, LinkedIn and the power of social media it won’t take a week for those feathers to spread, it will take nanoseconds.
  • Understand that you can’t always understand (Hamilton 149) I struggle with this mightily because as an educator, I am constantly trying to understand the world around me and the people in it. Hamilton says: “when it comes to my own life I know I’m just holding on for the ride,” (149).  Why is it that sometimes you miss incredible opportunities, because you were sick, or in the wrong place at the wrong time, or for some other reason beyond your control? Hamilton says that he’s missed incredible days where the waves were just right or other opportunities. Take advantage of what life has to offer and be open to whatever comes. We may not know why we missed that important meeting or opportunity but Hamilton says that’s what faith is about: believe without proof (Hamilton 150). I know that in order to not make myself nuts, whenever I hear about a missed opportunity, or I come away from a teaching or training engagement and suddenly remember something I wanted to say or could have said better, I tell myself that “things worked out the way they were supposed to” and “the audience heard everything they needed to hear that day.”

    Even with this project with 50 books in 50 weeks, I know that there are lessons I am missing and times I just run out of room to write about what I have learned. At that point, I just tell myself that “I and  you, got everything you needed to out of this blog, and you have the references and if something clicks, you can pick up the book, which I encourage you to do, and continue to learn.”

  • If you’re not prepared, do not be surprised if you fail (Hamilton 150). If I look back at some of the biggest failures of my own life I realize that I was not prepared. Instead of being depressed about failure use it as an opportunity to learn (Hamilton 150). The only failure is the failure to learn from our mistakes. It is that old definition of insanity: doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result.
  • Complaining is a luxury (Hamilton 150). Whenever you are really down on your self remember, somebody else has it worse. Particularly here in United States. We forget that the majority of the world is below the poverty line. And I don’t mean, they don’t have the latest iPhone 5S, I mean they are trying to figure out what they are going to eat for their next meal or whether they are going to eat. And while the debate over Obamacare rages on, the vast majority of the world cannot get even the basic medical care for their kids, that any American will get just by walking into an emergency room.
  • Happiness is easier and smarter (Hamilton 151). A few years ago, I decided that everyone I make eye contact with, will get a smile. I don’t care if you’re in line at Starbucks or walking past me on the street – you’re getting a smile whether you like it or not! What I’ve found is that this helps raise my own level of happiness and hopefully, raises someone else’s. If it doesn’t raise the other persons happiness, well, as Robin Williams used to say, “joke ’em if they can’t take a f#%!” Remember, you can only control your actions and behaviors, so I choose to leave everyone with a positive interaction if I can (I’m not perfect either so I’m sure a frown slips out every once in awhile), and let them decide what to do with it.
  • Embrace the new (Hamilton 151). I don’t think Hamilton means we should chase every shiny object but we should continue to explore new experiences and maybe even new people. What if when we die the only things we’re left with are the memories of the experiences we had while on Earth? Do you really want your entire memory bank to be filled with endless reality shows? How about a memory bank of living your own life instead of watching others live theirs? (not dogging reality shows here, I watch them too, but not to the exclusion of actually living a life).

Hamilton’s final thoughts in his book are for his passion and his career, surfing. But he does offer a few words of wisdom on family that are worth remembering, particularly since what he does for a living is dangerous.

“I brought my kids into this world – they didn’t ask to be born – but it seems wrong if I stop being myself because of them. It’d almost be cheating them.” (Hamilton 159).

Gabby Reece, Hamilton’s wife, echoes his sentiment: “You always want to make sure your children are safe, but when you’re too fearful, you’re going to pass that onto them.” 

Hamilton says that the most important thing you can give to your children is love and time – lots and lots of time (p 160). Give them grown-up answers to questions, have incredible patience and tolerance (remember, they don’t have your life experience yet) and keep in mind that you owe your children everything you are and everything you’ve got (Hamilton 160).

Hmm, that sounds like we’re living a life of contribution where we’re always looking to give of ourselves to others rather than take. Now, imagine if corporate executives and managers treated their subordinates this way. Imagine if our political party members treated each other with this way. Imagine if parents treated their kids this way. Imagine if we all remembered that we reap what we sow and by being difficult and cantankerous and unreasonable we are just inviting more of that to our lives. Imagine if people understood understood that they don’t always understand why things happen that they just sometimes do. Imagine if we did not complain so much about everybody else and go around, as Stephen Covey was fond of saying, “confessing everybody else’s sins.” Imagine if we used our words wisely, embraced new and effective ways of doing things and did it all with a smile on our face. Imagine that if something did not work out that we could learn our lessons from and then rather than demonizing the people who failed. I wonder what that world would look like.

Hamilton, Laird. Force of Nature: Mind, Body, Soul, And, of Course, Surfing. New York: Rodale, 2008. Print.

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