How to Overcome the Currents We Cannot See.
One early morning, while at MEA in Baja (a beloved sanctuary), I jogged to Playa Cerritos and went in the ocean. I did this by myself, which, in retrospect, was not a good idea. The ocean—a dear childhood friend—was calling me. I didn’t realize how strongly.
Playa Cerritos was gorgeous. I felt like I was in paradise. I dove into the ocean, submerging to the floor when the strong waves approached so that I could get past them. Once beyond the breaking point, I enjoyed floating on my back, relaxing, closing my eyes, and focusing on the touch of the water, breeze, and sun.
Next thing I know, I lift my head and realize I’m very far from shore. Much too far.
Fight or flight sets in. My sole focus becomes survival.
I start to swim toward shore. After a minute or two, I raise my head to see how much progress I’ve made, only to realize that I haven’t made any.
I figure I’ve been caught in a rip current. It’s a new and terrifying experience, but I have heard what to do.
I veer ninety degrees and start swimming parallel to the shore. It is nerve-racking because the ocean continues to push me out. Is this the right thing to do? I’m not sure.
After a few minutes of swimming, I start to gradually steer toward the shore. I’m tired, so I switch to backstroke to give my fatigued muscles a rest. Eventually, I start feeling the waves breaking in front of me, so I turn onto my stomach and pick up the pace.
When I feel a wave breaking behind me, I don’t submerge to let it pass. I let it tumble me to shore.
After what seems like an eternity being tossed around underwater, I feel dizzy but I’m very glad to be alive. I’m equally glad to not have created tragedy and chaos for Chip and my MEA cohort.
In the United States alone, over 100 people die every year from rip currents. Our intuition is to swim straight to shore, which only creates exhaustion.
While few people get caught in the rip currents of the ocean, all of us get caught in the rip currents of life. They’re invisible headwinds that keep us on a hamster wheel. We respond by putting in more effort, running faster toward our goal, because we haven’t discovered the tailwinds.
We get trapped by the performance paradox: the counterintuitive phenomenon that if we fixate solely on performing, our performance suffers. The route to success is often not a straight line. When pursuing our goals, if all we do is what we already know in an effort to try to minimize mistakes—what I call the Performance Zone—we stagnate.
The Performance Zone is essential. It’s how we get things done. But we need to balance and integrate it with the Learning Zone—leaping beyond the known—by asking questions, listening, experimenting, and venturing into new domains. It’s what we do at MEA—and what MEA equips us to do in life.
The chrysalis is a magic space and time of transformation. But the butterfly needs to continue to fly to foreign lands, make new discoveries, at times reenter new chrysalises, and always continue to transform. To do this, we need to build habits that prevent us from getting stuck in chronic performance and instead make leaping into the unknown a part of how we live.
Eduardo Briceño is an MEA alum who guides many of the world’s leading companies in developing cultures of learning and high performance. His TED and TEDx talks have been viewed more than nine million times. His book, The Performance Paradox: Turning the Power of Mindset into Action (launching on September 5), is strongly endorsed by Chip Conley, Carol Dweck, and other bestselling authors, and was selected as a "Must-Read" by the Next Big Idea Club, which is curated by Susan Cain, Malcolm Gladwell, Adam Grant, and Dan Pink.