What does Surfing have to do with a Career Transition?

We’ve all encountered the situation where after weeks of pouring over job descriptions and writing innumerable cover letters, sitting at the kitchen table, we get frustrated in the lack of response.  A spouse or partner pipes in with an irritatingly unhelpful comment about our exhausting and seemingly never-ending job search.  We’ve started to react, to get angry… maybe we say something, may be we don’t, but either way, our physiology consequently feels it.  We feel our face start to warm, adrenaline starts pumping and emotions start to well up. We can’t control many things in this situation, but we can be prepared to control our response, to make a choice-- to let the trigger affect us or not.
 “You Can’t Stop the Waves, but You Can Learn How to Surf.”
The godfather of mindfulness, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn is spot on with this quote:

 “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.”

The waves of life, especially through career transitions, are stressful. Without mechanisms to ride the waves, we can get battered over and over again. Our bodies react to prolonged durations of stress that wears down the immune system and wreaks havoc on our physical and emotional states.
Our bodies react to the thoughts in our mind.  By letting our thoughts and emotions rule us, we ride the roller coaster our entire lives. We are taken by the ups and downs. Our thoughts affect our bodies and our realities. We walk into an interview with a negative mindset, it’s hard not to see anything outside of that.  When we attach ourselves to being overwhelmed with the transitions in our lives-- ruminating about what we said or did not say in an interview, we are constantly on edge… in a perpetual state of stress.  
Rather than being pummeled by the waves, learning how to surf the waves brings us space, an opportunity to create some distance between a potentially stressful stimuli and our response to it. 
Learning how to surf takes time, any adult learner who has been out on the water would tell you that in a heartbeat. But the rewards can be immediate. Same with developing a meditation practice, it takes time, and truthfully, not a lot of time. The proof is in the pudding. By creating moments of space in your schedule and settling yourself down to focus on the present moment, you begin to change the circuitry in your brain.  You strengthen the neural networks in areas of the brain that govern focus, attention and calmness. It’s your savings. Slowly, little by little, you put money away and it grows. Every time you sit and create a space to focus on the breath, you invest in yourself.
“Know Thyself.”
With a meditative practice, we consciously get off the roller coaster and watch the roller coaster from a different perspective—creating space between us and our mind.  It’s no longer taking us for a ride. Note: People can be addicted to the ride-- the drama in life, the stories we tell ourselves and others, the victim or perpetrator mentalities.  Meditation is difficult, because the ego, the drama lover, is trying to stay alive. Here’s where our homeboy Socrates’ deceptively simple words that pack a powerful punch becomes important: “Know Thyself.” When awareness/consciousness enters in, when you create space between you and your mind by shedding light on your thoughts (knowing yourself), slowly the roller coaster ride flattens out and the ups and downs fall away with practice.
Setting the Stage
I often hear from my clients “ I don’t have time to meditate.” Realistically, you don’t have time NOT to create a practice.  Taking 5 minutes in the morning and then again later on in the day is all you need to get you off the roller coaster ride.

  1. Set a gentle alarm. It’s easier to rely on the alarm than your internal clock.
  2. Be aware of what is going through your mind.  Teachers call this the monkey mind.  I call it the voiceover. Is it your to-do list, is it anxiety about find a job and supporting your family, is it not having enough time? Just take note of it. By watching the thoughts, you are cultivating a mind awareness. 
  3. Begin to explore your breath. Draw air in through your nose and out through your nose.  Notice what happens to your belly when you inhale for several breaths. Follow the flow of the breath. Breathe in and become aware of where the breath flows through your body and same on the exhale. Become aware of the sound of your breath while focusing your attention on the air flowing through your nose.
Undoubtedly, your mind will wander. That’s normal. With learning how to surf, you inevitably fall off the board. The important thing is that you get back on. When your mind starts to wander and when you realize it’s happening,  bring your self back to the technique. That’s when you start to strengthen the neural circuitry in your brain and begin to create space in your mind. 

Jess Geevarghese is a meditation teacher who works with private, corporate and non-profit clients in Texas.  Her meditation practice is informed by years of study, contemplation and experience with the aim to transform meditation into a tangible and accessible practice. While living in New York City, she taught meditation to a wide variety of companies from legal advocacy firms to large asset management firms.  Prior to teaching full-time, Jess was the Senior Director, Business Development and Initiatives at a large non-profit where in various capacities she oversaw multi-million dollar budgets, strategic initiatives, client relations and staffing.  Jess holds a BSBA, MBA and MSW from Washington University in St. Louis. 

Jess creates customized guided meditations for individuals (www.thelongtimesun.org) and posts regularly on well-being and meditation on Facebook (www.facebook.com/thelongtimesun).