A few days ago, a notification hit my inbox. It was time to renew the GnarlyGirls.com domain name.
“How has it already been a year?!” I thought. I didn’t accomplish half as much as I expected. I envisioned more blog posts, more videos, putting on events, and at least 1K followers on social media. Instead, I only produced one video, a few scattered blog posts, and not one Gnarly Girls event. I have 32 followers on Twitter, and less than 200 on Facebook and Instagram. There’s piles of unfinished video projects and audio interviews collecting virtual dust on my hard drive.
In other words, instead of celebrating the one year anniversary, I had a huge pity party. I sat in bed wishing I put in more effort. I was disappointed in myself because I have a habit of starting projects with ardent enthusiasm, until they start to overwhelm me and inevitably fall off of my radar completely. Was Gnarly Girls the next dead project on my roster of failures?
Gnarly Girls started after a surfing trip to Costa Rica. I thought the trip would be a way for me to solve all of my problems. I was going through the transitional pains of navigating adulthood: lingering heartbreak of past relationships, confusion about career goals, and so on. My newsfeed was full of other people getting engaged, having babies (woah), and by all traditional definitions, appearing to have it all figured out. I compared my life to the milestone markers I thought I would have reached by now.
I tend to be a bit melodramatic, so a few normal life hiccups felt like an existential crisis. As most “lost” millennials do (according to the “20 reasons to quit everything and travel!” articles littering the internet) I planned a solo trip, hoping to get a grandiose revelation. Spoiler alert: it didn’t happen. Thanks for the unrealistic expectations, Eat, Pray, Love!
I went to Costa Rica with a group called Surf With Amigas. There were nine other women, all at varying ages and surfing levels. We had never met before, and spanned origins from Switzerland to Canada to Alaska. After landing at the airport, we were grouped into cars for a two hour drive to the camp. Knowing we had a long ride ahead, we began our small talk, desperately trying to thwart the awkwardness. The first question was “So, how long have you been surfing?”
The women in my car said they started recently, or had surfed when they were younger but went on a decade long hiatus. I assumed they would be spending their time on the shore for the first few days, learning how to paddle and pop-up. I was okay with not being the best – I had just started, after all – but I wasn’t okay with being the worst. As a highly competitive person, being the worst meant failure. It meant holding everyone else back. And worst of all, it meant embarrassment.
Turns out, everyone was very modest about their skills. When we watched videos from our first day, I saw everyone else in the group carving effortlessly or standing up smoothly. I watched my video, and I looked like a seal trying to escape a shark hunt – desperately flailing and splashing around before getting swallowed whole. Immediately, I thought I made a huge mistake by joining the retreat. I wasn’t sure if I could handle a full week of feeling like the worst one in the group.
The next morning, we got up early to surf. I was apprehensive to get back into the water. As anticipated, I still couldn’t stand up, and I felt like everyone else was catching waves but me. While I milled around in mental incertitude, I discovered the real reason I couldn't be happy: I was comparing myself to everyone else’s success.
As the week rolled on, we ate meals together, went on horseback rides and night hikes in the jungle, stretched through yoga sessions, and I even fended off jungle crabs from crawling into my hair while I slept. We went from total strangers to a surfing support group. We watched each other in the water with excitement and encouragement, and cheered for each other when we caught waves. I even gave a daily “crabcast” each morning, reporting on how I learned to accept the creepy critters crawling in and around my hair. I steadily became less embarrassed about how bad I was at surfing, and more focused on how much fun I was having.
When I got home from my trip, I had no new revelations or solutions to any of the “problems” I had before. But I did have a new perspective. I realized how important it is to accept discomfort – especially the discomfort of being a beginner. I learned how to welcome growth, instead of getting caught up in comparisons.
I couldn’t go back to Costa Rica, but I felt like I could impart confidence to other beginners. Instead of poking fun at “kooks” or calling newbies “gapers”, I wanted to create an inclusive community that empowers female skiers, snowboarders, skateboarders, and surfers. Thus, Gnarly Girls was born.
Now, back to the present day pity party. I scrolled through the rest of my emails, and discovered a message from a stranger, who I will call Stephanie*. Stephanie has a teenage daughter, and she told me about how she appreciated the way Gnarly Girls inspires women to follow their passions. She ended her email with this sentence:
“Thank you for starting Gnarly Girls. I have every belief it will be a success because you’re exactly where you should be, and doing what you were meant to do, right now, in this moment. Thank you for giving us "your moment".
I MEANNNNN... if that's not the stars aligning, I don't know what is. Life is a constant lesson in learning how to be kind to yourself. It’s not about how good you look on the waves, or being able to do a backflip off a jump, or whatever else it is that makes you feel insecure and incapable. It's about accepting those vulnerabilities because it's all part of the process.
As I reflect on the reason why I created Gnarly Girls, it has nothing to do with the amount of videos I made, or the number of followers I acquired. At the end of the day, success means at least ONE girl feels empowered to surf, snowboard, skate, or ski without insecurities holding her back. Thanks to Stephanie, I realized that somewhere out there, her daughter was inspired to try something new because of Gnarly Girls. And that's what makes it all worthwhile.
*Name was changed for privacy.