“If a surfer catches a wave…”

A Classic Debate

Most of us have heard the phrase,

“If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

I’d like to re-phrase this philosophical inquiry:

If I catch a sick wave and no one is around to see it, was it really that awesome?

Or, another version—

If I write a post I believe in wholeheartedly and hardly anyone reads it, is it really any good?


Out in the line-up, I often find myself hoping for praise. I’m hoping one of the uncles will cheer for me after a wave. I hope someone will praise me, with a simple cheer, an echoing, “Cheee-hoo,” or even a simple nod, an acknowledgement that I have been seen, that I did something impressive.

It’s not unusual for us to want external validation for our efforts.

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did it, though?

Conditioned to Crave

Social media is predicated on this very concept. Did something even happen if no one else saw, re-tweeted, liked, hearted, or commented on it? It did, and we know it did, yet more than ever we are told to look outward for validation, rather than inward.

Surfing has taught me that it doesn’t matter who sees the wave I caught. It doesn’t matter how the photos I was able to get of my session turned out, or how many likes it got on Instagram. Of course, I want to get followers, likes, re-tweets, and heart-eyed emojis, reads of my blog, and chee-hoos—don’t we all? Part of the joy of any project is the acknowledgement and encouragement we get from other people seeing our progress and efforts.

Missing the Point

But what about when that wave I caught, which brought me so much joy, didn’t photograph as well as I thought it did? What about when my turn wasn’t nearly as clean as it felt or my writing isn’t read as much as I’d hoped?

Here’s another version:

If it didn’t get as much validation as I thought it would, does that make it (whatever “it” might be) any less enjoyable?

When we stop letting our experience guide our joy, and begin relying on the external world of likes, shares, and followers to mediate our personal experiences of fulfillment, we give disproportionate power to the external world. If I decided that every wave I ever caught wasn’t fun because someone else didn’t see it, I’d have about 4 waves to be happy about in my entire life.

But I do my best not to do that. I believe the tree does make a sound if no one is around to hear it, just as I believe I shredded that wave even if no one else witnessed it. Because you know what, I witnessed that wave—I was riding it! The exhilaration I derive from surfing is not something any person, comment, or photo can take away from me. Each wave I catch is mine alone.

Validate Your Own Session

And, as I’ve thought about this more and more, everything I do in life is my wave to ride, regardless of who sees or doesn’t see. I catch waves for myself and I write for myself; I sing and dance and create for myself. It’s not easy to separate the ever-fluctuating external validation of social media from the steadfast internal validation we are always able to give to ourselves, but it’s worth striving towards separating the two.

Mindful Self-Affirmation

For today’s Mindful Monday, I want you to start reflecting on your own life, and where the external takes priority over the internal. Start listening to your self-talk and how it changes in parallel to the validation or lack thereof that you get from around you. Take a day to be mindful of those thoughts and behaviors. Does your whole mood change because someone didn’t acknowledge something you did? Do you feel the need to delete something that didn’t get enough likes, even though you love it? If so, it doesn’t make you a bad person or a people-pleaser, it makes you human.

Drop the Comparisons

At the root of this need for external validation is our desire to compare ourselves to others. If we get better waves we are we better than other people? If we get praise then we are superior writers/ employees/ siblings/ children/ parents/ surfers/ dancers/ whatever else? I don’t necessarily believe we are. But I do believe it is extremely difficult not to get bogged down in those comparisons and desires for social proof of our value.

Do “it” for You

Today, do something just for you, whether it’s catching a wave or writing a poem, singing a song or doing a dance. Experience a moment without taking a photo, or tell someone you love that you love them just to tell them, without expecting anything in return.

Keep asking yourself what waves of your journey you are letting others dictate in your life? What joy are you basing on someone else’s standards? Think about all the waves (literal or figurative) you’ve ridden in your life, feeling exhilarated and certain that something breathtaking has just happened, only to feel dispirited minutes later when measured against the scales of external validation?

Be Your Own Witness

Take back your wave. Claim your ride. Don’t let anyone, or anything, take away your stoke. You are the only necessary witness to the remarkable spirit that is you. When other people recognize it (which they most likely will), remember that that is a bonus, but not the reward itself.

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