My Mentern. Part 2.
Following up Jeff Hamaoui’s post from yesterday: “Zach. Why are you going surfing? There are no waves… you’re being dumb,” my dad’s voice carried into the garage that early Saturday morning in March. As I strapped my surfboard to the car roof, I called down the garage stairs to him, “I just… have to.
It’s been flat for over a week, and I just need to paddle around. Who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky.”
One hour later, I pulled into the beach parking lot -- not a single car. I pulled into the closest spot to the sand, hopped out wearing a t-shirt that said “Mucho Aloha,” and scampered down to the seawall. Light winds, crystal clear blue sky, and not one wave on the horizon. Eh, still worth it, I thought. I turned around and started walking down the stairs to the parking lot.
As I stepped around the corner, I made eye contact with a man walking up the stairs to the seawall. He must be just as desperate as I am, I laughed inside. As he looked down to avoid missing a step, I noticed on his head was a trucker cap. “Mucho Aloha,” it read. He looked up, glanced at my shirt, then at my face. As we walked by each other on that narrow staircase, I pretended I didn’t notice our strange coincidence. Stepping from sandy stairs to asphalt, I shook my head, laughing to myself. So funny, I thought. Now, there was another car in the lot, parked directly next to mine.
As I slowly slipped my wetsuit over my legs, I saw the Mucho Aloha-capped man walking towards me. While looking down at my board in front of my feet, he commented as much to me as himself, “That’s an interesting board design.” And with that, he granted permission by the universal-surf-law to start up a conversation with him about anything and everything.
As we chatted, he told me his name was Jeff and he was, indeed, just as desperate for a surf as I was. I told him my name was Zach, I was taking a gap year from college where I’d been studying sustainable development. He leaned back a little, wetsuit half-zipped, and confidently smiled, “I actually own a sustainability consultancy.” Coincidence number two, I thought. He paused for a moment, still looking at me, tilted his head slightly in the sun, and asked, “Would you want to come work for me? Like an internship?”
A few months later, I showed up for the first day in a collared shirt, belt, and anything else I thought a decent new hire should wear. As a few of the company's employees stood up to make introductions, the office door opened and in came Jeff, hair slicked back from the ocean water that was still evaporating from his head, flip flops, t-shirt, blue jeans. “Morning, Zach, let’s get you set up,” he said to me, as he walked towards his desk. This was my new boss.
I learned loads that summer. How to actually use Excel. How to coordinate meetings of international stakeholders for the UN to brainstorm solutions for reducing black carbon emissions. How to plan out an innovation accelerator for college students to solve societal problems. But perhaps the most important thing I learned was on the very last evening of my last day of work as “the intern” that summer. After our official review of my work for the summer, I returned to my desk to finish a few last emails. I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked up to see Jeff, wearing his Mucho Aloha cap, grinning down at me: “Let’s go for a surf.”
I grabbed my suit and board from my car, hopped in his, and he began driving faster than I thought that winding mountain road would ever allow for. As the evening sun started to fade into orange-magenta, he turned John Butler down with the radio’s volume knob.
“Zach,” he said, “there are two things I want to tell you. First, from this moment on, I am no longer your boss and you are no longer my intern: if we ever work together again it will not be for me but with me.” He glanced over at me with a smile out the corner of his cheek. “And you are the kind of person who could work at half your capacity and do good work for the rest of your life, seriously good,” he paused, “But if you want to do great work, work that you yourself will be truly proud of, then you’ll have to set a bar higher than anyone will be able to set for you. And to meet it, you’ll need to push yourself harder than anyone else will. And you’ll need the inspiration to fuel yourself.”
I stared at the golden dusk-covered mountain ridge, now in the distance, listening. “Yeah, I think you’re right,” I said.
As I started imagining years into the future, Jeff looked over his shoulder and smiled, “But before you think too much about that, let’s get some waves, eh?”
For years I thought that success in the modern, western world must be achieved at an expense. With each surf session, I was getting further and further from achieving my true goals in life. But Jeff taught me that I had it all backwards. It’s the joy in life that powers dedication. That I can surf in the morning, and it can improve my ability to think and act better for the rest of the day, give me the adrenaline and awareness to visualize and achieve my dreams. Because after all, if I hadn’t driven out to the beach on the flattest day of March, I never would have been in that car with Jeff then, hearing the lessons I’d been seeking since I left college to find them. And now, I was ready to go back, but this time with my surfboard and that big ol’ grin of his.
Zach Moses Ostroff is a musical artist, producer, film composer, and environmental communication specialist.