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KerryOn: LeaderSurfing

Have you ever wanted to do something so badly that it scared you to even begin? I had this experience when I tried surfing for the first time. Keep in mind, I was born and raised in Minnesota about as far away from the ocean as one can get on the North American continent. Strangely, the desire to surf has been in my blood for as long as I can remember, and yet, I hadn’t experienced the sensation of riding a wave.

To celebrate a milestone birthday many years ago now, surfing became my mission. My sister and I traded the snow-covered woods of northern Minnesota for the palm trees of southern California to embark on our surfing excursion. After scheduling lessons and being given a guarantee that we would be standing on a board by the end of the day, I was still extremely nervous. Even as our surfer-dude instructor explained technique and showed us where we would be in the water to catch the waves or "Impact Zone" [which sounded a lot like "Dead Zone"] I questioned if I made the right decision to pursue this activity. Would I be safe? Would I make a fool of myself? And more importantly, would I be able to stand up on the board?

As we tallied up the successes and failures of the experience, it hit me that there was more to the story than just surfing. I began to formulate in my mind what it meant to step out of the comforts and to truly take on new experiences in life. I started to frame this up as LeaderSurfing -- to focus on a mission despite being tossed around (quite a bit) learning from the process and adapting to whatever came my way.

I can tell you that day in the ocean surfing I did get raked over [surfing term for hammered by waves] as I paddled out to the zone. I drank plenty of salt water. And at times, I laughed so hard that I was crying. But by our third "Party Wave" of the afternoon [my sister and I riding the same wave], I realized that I stayed true to my mission. No matter how many times the waves swallowed me, each of the pieces of the experience meant that I was LeaderSurfing. The next day when I grabbed my board to catch a wave, I knew I was ready for whatever the ocean doled out.

It is important to realize how similar experiences like these replicate other leadership activities we pursue in our lives. New experiences can be challenging. They can make us question who we are. They can make us insecure about our abilities. And they can hurt (mentally, physically, and emotionally). They show the world how, sometimes, we truly are a fish - or in this case - a surfer, out of water. And yet, at any age, in any place, at any time in our lives, these experiences are what will continue to shape us as leaders.

So the next time you question taking on something that you desire and that terrifies you at the same time. Remember, these are the experiences that will build your leadership character or LeaderSurf. Go on. Grab a board. Get tossed around a bit. I'll catch you on the next wave.

KerryOn Questions

- What is something that you desire and that terrifies you at the same time?

- In what ways can you LeadersSurf: focus on your mission despite being tossed around?

- What are the steps you need to take to “catch your wave”?

The Kerry behind KerryOn

My name is Kerry K. Fierke, Ed.D. (pron. Fear-Key) I have a unique combination of skills and experience – decades of fast-paced corporate experience in Fortune 100 companies and large health care organizations, combined with the academic rigor of a highly ranked research university. My focus is supporting others to create their own path to leadership development, lifelong learning, and a unique leadership legacy. Take a moment to focus on leadership, then KerryOn!

To see all KerryOn's and other leadership stuff, visit

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