Employing Zen: A Surfer's Survival Guide To The Entry-Level Job

It’s Tuesday afternoon, and everything is going as well as it could go for a Tuesday afternoon. (After all, Tuesday is only your second least favorite day of the week.)

You’ve survived the morning by successfully navigating a labyrinth of cubicles and correctly employing the necessary small talk when needed.

You’ve almost pissed out all of this morning’s caffeine dosage, but fear not, a trip to the café will provide a much-needed breath of fresh air as you go about your daily chores.

It’s 10 minutes before you leave for lunch, and your boss unexpectedly swings by your desk-office-dungeon and carpet-bombs a string of criticism on your ass that suddenly turns your Tuesday from "just fine" to "nightmare."

Your anxiety levels have spiked, and you feel like a failure.

The future looks bleak. You know you’re over-exaggerating, but you can’t help but feel the critique work its way through your pores like Friday night’s double whiskey on the rocks.

We’ve all been there. Entry-level jobs are stressful and riddled with unavoidable traps and pitfalls. (How could that PDF not have been formatted properly? It only took you an hour to figure out...)

I was in the exact same boat as every other Millennial, trying to set up a decent career while simultaneously trying to ignore Yahoo! articles about the newest 24-year-old millionaire.

I know how crippling the angst can be.

Luckily for me, around the same time I entered the work force, I had taken up the sport of surfing. I’d find myself at the beach three to four times a week, watching the sun come up over the water as I drifted further and further into the sport’s culture and practices.

Before I knew it, I was obsessed, and my jittery neuroses transformed themselves into chilled-out surfer-dude vibes.

I learned five zen principles through surfing. And, in an attempt to remedy the common nine-to-five anxieties, here are the lessons I've successfully adopted in the entry-level workplace:

1. Commit fully, or don’t commit at all.

You won't stand a chance in the water unless you're fully engaged with a wave. A half-assed paddle gets you nowhere.

While gunning for a wave, there is a deciding moment when you need to commit to the sprint wholeheartedly.

We must treat the entry-level work environment in the same regard.

We need to use the drive of the bigger picture (your career) as a means of motivating yourself for even the most menial of tasks.

Don’t think of it as a commitment to meaningless administrative duties; think of it as a commitment to a work ethic.

2. You will eat sh*t (a lot of it).

But, the aforementioned commitment is your acceptance of failure being a sincere and realistic possibility.

You will make mistakes, but you’re lucky enough to be at a level where you’ll generally always be able to recover.

The more prepared you are for the wipeout, the better.

When falling down the face of a wave, you quickly learn to take larger breaths and relax your body in an attempt absorb minimal impact.

Because unless you plan on fighting the same body of water that took out the "Titanic" and turned David Hasselhoff into a sex icon, chances are you’re going to need a mechanism to help you roll with the punches.

Embrace your mistakes, take a deep breath and amend them.

(I mean, let's be honest: You could have spent an hour and 10 minutes on that PDF if you were really trying.)

3. Slow it down.

When facing waves of any size, you need to be able to slow things down and focus on the mechanics and technique.

Surfing is a sport of milliseconds. You rely on minute movements to generate speed and dig into proper turns. The smallest shift in your balance will send you bellyflopping through nature’s most effective washing machine.

As with work, I have to often force myself to slow things down when faced with a problem or dilemma.

New hires will sometimes have a tendency to riddle their employers with questions due to an innate fear of being wrong.

They don’t take time to actually think things through before jumping the gun in a panic when, in actuality, the answer to their concern is right in front of them.

You’ve spent your entire life developing the ability to problem solve, just as a surfer spends time developing muscle memory.

So, go ahead and exercise that ability.

4. Study the beach.

Learn its specific hazards. Learn to identify where the wave breaks, where riptides occur and how deep the water is.

For your own safety (and more importantly, the quality of your ride), you need to be able to read an ocean environment and understand it. Even the best surfers in the world take the time to understand different breaks.

Trust me, you only need to talk to one person who’s rushed into a shallow reef to get an idea of how that feels.

The same is true in an office environment. Not only should you be studying that environment’s logistical processes, but you should also be studying the dynamics of the people around you.

What are the bureaucratic pitfalls? Who’s in charge of who? Who’s actually in charge of who?

Oh, the last guy who did your job lit himself on fire and ran out of the room? You should probably contact him and ask him why.

The more you know about your break, the more comfortable you’ll be. The more comfortable you are, the better you’ll perform.

Take the time to do some studying.

5. Savor the process, not the product.

Some of my favorite moments as a surfer were simply learning to surf.

I would giddily shoot out of my bed like a 6-year-old on his birthday to race out to the beach and get the living crap kicked out of me. But, that was okay because I made progress with every passing beatdown.

One day, you’re going to be a hot shot with a staff of employees under you and millions of dollars to be responsible for.

And, in those moments, you’ll cherish the days your biggest concern was the fat content of a latte for your boss.

It won't be because those days were simpler, but because you actually got to spend them figuring yourself out.

And so when the Xerox machine is stapling your papers upside down, or you’ve bought the wrong colored Post-Its (How could you not remember her favorite color was green?), remember these minuscule trials are how you learn to define yourself in the work place.

Make those commitments, don’t fear mistakes, slow things down and study your work environment.

Oh, and spend your weekends at the beach, of course.