Managing life’s headwinds: Lessons from a kiteboarder


I recently was blessed to spend a week on the beach near Playa del Carmen in Mexico. There, the beaches are beautiful and the water crystal clear.  One day, I spent some time watching both an experienced kiteboarder and one just trying to learn.  It made me consider the similarities between how a kiteboarder controls the wind and how we try to manage our own headwinds.

First, a kiteboarding primer… Kiteboarding (or kitesurfing) is simply using a kite approximately 12 feet wide attached by a cable to a strap on your floatation vest.  Your feet are in straps attached to a board.  You control the kite by shifting the kite position using a bar you hold.  So, you “simply” use the bar to direct the wind and your direction and speed. The experts I observed could move in any direction regardless of the wind, allow the kite to lift them off the surf, and, in short, glide along the ocean surface seemingly without a care.  The beginners, on the other hand, frequently fell, had difficulty controlling the kite, and were often seen scrambling to simultaneously hold the kite and re-insert their feet into the board straps.

I observed several things as I watched both the kiteboarding experts and beginners about managing the wind.  And, the same principals apply as corollaries to how we encounter and try to manage the headwinds we face in life:

  1. No one is immune from life’s headwinds – Though today may be one that offers no significant challenges, the day will come when your own headwind will come.  For the kiteboarder, he/she could simply let the tailwind carry them out to sea, but without the ability to manage a headwind, they would have no way to return to shore. Don’t expect to get through life without experiencing your own challenges.  Knowing how to manage the wind can make all the difference in how you respond.
  2. Experience matters when facing life’s headwinds – The more experience the kiteboarder has, the better he/she is able to manage the wind.  Likewise, as you experience life’s challenges, you become better equipped to endure.  You are less likely to panic and more able to just face it head-on.  Going through challenges builds the muscle you need to endure it better the next time.
  3. It is possible to turn a headwind into a tailwind – The experienced kiteboarder can manipulate the wind any way they want.  By just moving the control bar, they can go with the wind, against the wind, or across the wind.  Likewise, with experience, we can turn a challenge into an opportunity.  Losing a job can lead to a new, more rewarding career.  Surviving a health issue can better prepare us for the next one. Realizing that your challenge may, in reality, have a purpose in your life may help you see through to the other side of the challenge.
  4. When headwinds cause us to fall, we can choose how we respond – I observed two kinds of beginner kiteboarders: one that persisted and fought through their frustrations and the other that quickly gave up and headed back to shore.  We have the same choices when life’s challenges arise… we can either persist or we can give up.  Those that persist, win in the end.
  5. Others can help us manage life’s headwinds – The instructor for new kiteboarders is essential.  It would be nearly impossible to master the winds without an experienced instructor to guide the learning process.  Similarly, those around us with experience can help us navigate through our own challenges.  Having the courage to ask for help in dealing with our struggles can often lead to better and quicker success.
  6. Thrills await those that can master life’s headwinds – It appeared that those that have mastered the kiteboard have a ball!  By going through the struggles of the learning process, they emerge with the ability to enjoy the sun, surf, and wind in ways that the rest of us cannot.  This only comes through experience.  If we endure and drive through our own headwinds, good things will emerge on the other side.

I do have to admit, watching the kiteboarding experts was fun.  They effortlessly exhibited a mastery of both the surf and the winds that made you think, “Hey, that looks easy!”  But, watching the beginners was funny, though you could almost feel their frustration.

Likewise, watching a family member, friend, or colleague struggle with life’s headwinds can be frustrating for us.  Lending a hand, providing needed support, or simply letting them know you care can make a difference in how they respond to their own challenges.

For those currently facing life’s challenges… persist, keep trying, and know that good things will come as you make your way through it.  Don’t be afraid to lean on others that have similar experiences.  And, know that someday, your experience will be valuable as you lend a hand to someone else facing that same headwind.

Have a terrific day!  Today could be your best day yet… you just never know when it will come.  Good luck managing the headwinds that blow into your face today!

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