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Why performance isn't a straight line...

I am terrible at surfing.

This was the voice in my head as I missed yet another take off at The Wave last Friday. 

You see, I’ve been surfing (albeit inconsistently) for the best part of 30 years. 

And whereas in other sports such as netball, I have zero expectation and am able to fully embrace my lack of skill (cos I am only going to improve right?!), with surfing it’s very hard to drown out the bit of my brain saying I SHOULD be better.

My 20 year old self would have listened to that voice. She would have spent the weekend beating herself up, feeling a mix of shame and anger for failing in such a public way. 

But thankfully I have done a bit of work since then 😅  

And I now know three things to be true: 

1. Performance doesn’t happen in a straight line. Some days we shine and others we fall. Even athletes (and leaders) have off days. It doesn’t necessarily mean our skill level has changed, but faltering does offer an opportunity to test and adjust and reflect on what’s not working right now. And sometimes there are other factors at play that we can’t control. Which brings me to point two…

2. Context is key. How we are feeling and the environment we are operating in plays a huge role in how we show up regardless  of our ability. As does the amount of support we have and how psychologically safe we feel.

To put my Friday into perspective, I had just driven for 2.5 hours on the back of a super hectic week, this was my first time on the left hand side of the lagoon & only my 3rd ever session at The Wave. I also knew no-one in my session and was using a new board. So not exactly a recipe for success! 🤦‍♀️

A woman surfing

Which leads me nicely to point 3… 

3. We get the choose the moments that define us. Sure I missed a few waves.  But, I also caught a couple that I was pretty happy with. It was the most beautiful sunny evening, the sun was sparkling on the water and despite all the pulls on my time, I had prioritised myself enough to spend a Friday evening with a group of inspiring women doing something I loved. 

The reality is I walked away from that session with a choice.

I could a) focus on the waves I had missed and see that as evidence that I was not good enough or that I’d didn’t belong. 

Or b) I could acknowledge my frustration, but also give myself a high 5 for showing up, celebrate the wins and laugh about the rest. 

In the end, I chose b).

And I would encourage you to do the same. Because our stumbles and misses aren’t the whole picture. And there is no direct path to success. 

All we can do is to keep showing up, have the humility to learn (even when it sucks) and bank on the fact that one day a wave will come along that you might just catch 🏄‍♀️

Nicki Bass is a Registered Occupational Psychologist and founder of Resilience at Work, a consultancy that helps organisations to increase their resilience, leadership skills and wellbeing. To find out more contact Nicki at or sign up to our monthly newsletter at


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