Open Mic is the series on BLISTER where we invite various people in the outdoor industry to say what they have to say, and share whatever it is they feel like sharing at this particular point in time.
Today, we hear from Angel Collinson:
Surfing is hands down the hardest thing I have ever tried. It feels like there are more variables than in other sports, in no small part due to the ever-changing nature of the ocean. It just feels like an all around slippery sport.
My take on the challenges includes: learning good surf etiquette and respecting the locals and other surfers who probably don’t really want you to be there; reading the water and the ever-changing landscape of the ocean; figuring out how to be in the right spot to catch a wave; paddling and actually catching it (hard!); standing up (hopefully) on your slick little plank; getting your feet in the right place and riding it; then getting clobbered on the head by the secession of oncoming waves; and then mustering up the courage to paddle back out there to go do it all over again. Not to mention all of that with a continually full sinus cavity of salt water, and making friends with the bottom of the reef time and again. It’s safe to say it has been a humbling process for this Utah born-and-bred mountain girl. Combine that with my fear of moving water (rivers, waves, waterfalls) and I can confidently say that I’ve given my best shot at drowning my ego. (My partner Pete can report it still is there, for better or worse.)
As with all things in life — and perhaps especially good challenges — everything is a metaphor, and in the process of learning to surf, I’ve had some personal revelations, mainly about how to work through resistance and pursue life-long interests in an evolving way that gets me to where I actually want to be without sabotaging myself or said interests.
Let me backtrack for a moment to my ski career.
To reach mastery at something to the point of making a successful career out of it is a pursuit many of us have: to get paid to do what you love — that’s the dream, right?
But what happens when, in the process, you kill the whole reason why you do it in the first place: the passion you have for it and the joy you get from it? Can you get back to the sweet spot? And if not, then what?
For better or worse, once skiing became my job, I got burnt out on the one thing that meant the most to me. Losing the carefree joy of it made me really sad, and for four years I tried to find my way back into a better relationship with it. But I couldn’t, for a variety of reasons.
I don’t regret anything about my journey, but during this chapter of sailing around the world with my partner Pete, I’ve gotten the chance to self-reflect and integrate some lessons from the last chapter — what I did well, and also what I’d like to do differently for the next chapter, starting … well, now.
Part of the process of self-reflecting and deeply sitting with myself the past year post-skiing has included accepting things about me that I don’t necessarily love. It’s a scary process. Things like: I can be really sharp when I’m stressed, and that’s not fun to be around.
My go-to move when I’m unhappy or irritated is to want to blame it on the person closest to me. For example, if Pete had just done X, Y, or Z then everything would be fine. I could go on, but you get the point.
Given this, one of the things I am deeply sitting with is how my personality combined with choices I consciously or unconsciously made along the way irrevocably changed my relationship to skiing — and I don’t want to do that ever again to something that is important to me or that brings me a lot of joy. The beauty of it is: I get to learn from my experience, take what worked well, and work to drop what didn’t.
In other words, I’m in the process of learning how to cultivate a loving relationship with the things in my life that are meaningful.
To transition from reaching mastery in the thing that was my entire life, to now being a complete kook at everything my new ocean life involves, has led to daily servings of humble pie. It has consisted of a heavy dose of learning new things: cooking, freediving, surfing, spearfishing, and, most notably:
How to do any of those things in a way that simultaneously leads to betterment in the activity, while also learning…
How to lead life in a way that is increasingly enriching.
Here is what I’ve boiled my learnings / reflections down to so far:
1: HOW YOU DO ANYTHING IS HOW YOU DO EVERYTHING
2: ACCEPT WHERE YOU’RE AT CURRENTLY, HONESTLY
3: DEFINE WHAT SUCCESS LOOKS LIKE TO YOU
4: BE WILLING TO TRY A DIFFERENT APPROACH
5: ‘SHOWING UP’ FOR THE PROCESS CAN BE CREATIVE, PERMISSIVE, AND EASY
#1: HOW YOU DO ANYTHING IS HOW YOU DO EVERYTHING
I find this to be true for me, and I’ve used this sentiment to examine my life and gather information: to get to know myself better and be honest with myself about how I operate. I can take inventory of the good and the bad, remember that I’m a human being and I am malleable, and then, once I’ve identified my tendencies I can use that info to more consciously plot my future course.
My way has always been an all-or-nothing, perfectionist approach. This usually drives me to get good at something and push myself in a way that eventually either kills the fun of the thing I’m doing, or I just quit altogether. It doesn’t make me proud to admit this, but it’s true.
With where I’m at currently, the things that bring me the most joy — things like music, dancing, surfing, or art, I don’t think I could do them as a job and still keep the fun in it. So I will keep my hobbies sacred for now, and not rely on them to pay the bills. I wish I was different, and I envy people that can do both. But for now, this is where I’m at, and this acceptance will allow me to protect the things that fill my cup while I continue to work this out.
2: ACCEPT WHERE YOU’RE AT CURRENTLY, HONESTLY
I’ll bring surfing back in as an example for this, but first I want to quote something I read on the internet: “The fear behind accepting where you currently are is what’s keeping you stuck. You think that if you accept where you are, it means you’ll become complacent, but that’s one of the biggest lies fed to us by our culture. Acceptance helps release resistance and opens you to alternative ways of being and doing. That’s when the next doors open.” – @theqschool on Instagram.
This gave me pause and helped me open the doors past some massive resistance I was having with surfing; this also doesn’t make me proud to admit in public, but I’m not a super strong swimmer. Let me reframe: I’ve got a mean doggie paddle. And I’m working on the other, more effective strokes. I’m practicing, but the fact is, I’m not super comfortable in the water yet. I was afraid to really admit that to myself because I had so many judgments around it — after all, I’ve been living on a boat for two years; shouldn’t I be able to swim like a fish by now? But, I am not comfortable in bigger waves knowing that, if my leash broke, I’d have a hard time swimming ashore. So, instead of denying where I was at, I was like, yep. I can work on my swimming, and also just relegate myself to small waves where I’m more comfortable, even if the waves feel ‘too easy.’ It sounds simple, but accepting that I’m just not where I want to be with my comfort in the water yet — and that that’s OK — was humbling but liberating.
This led me to Part 2 of “accepting where I’m at” regarding getting real about my learning style: while I’ve done scary things in my life … I’ve gradually worked up to them.
It took me 3 years of learning Alaska and the big terrain up there before I felt confident skiing gnarly lines I was proud of — even though those lines had been in my technical ability the whole time. I just needed time to learn Alaska, get more confident and comfortable to work up to them. It’s the way I operate.
Some people are good at throwing themselves in over their head and being forced to learn along the way. And in situations where I wouldn’t be endangering myself or others with that approach, I wish that was me. It’s not. I like to start small, master what I can at that level, then work up.
For skiing, that would look like getting good at hitting a 3-foot cliff. Stomp that size every time, then go to 5, 10, etc. For most of my life, I’ve hung with people who are good at surfing. And I have tried to go out with them in waves beyond my ability or comfort, just being scared and hoping to figure it out along the way. And it’s never worked. So in this new chapter, I’ve been going to a small break and working on my technique, getting more comfortable, and I’ve been having big breakthroughs. Most importantly, I’ve been having so much fun! You’ve never heard someone holler so much after riding an ankle biter!!
#3: DEFINE WHAT SUCCESS LOOKS LIKE TO YOU:
I’ve tried to ‘learn to surf’ many different times, and every time has made surfing seem less and less like something I’d ever be able to do. So this time around, with what I am learning, the goal has 100 percent been to repattern my relationship so I’m not too scared, I look forward to it, I’m comfortable, and it’s fun. Getting better at it is actually secondary. This is new for me, because I enjoy doing things well, so I have always prioritized improving at them with the mindset of, “The better I am at it, the more fun I’ll have.” And while that is true up to a point, it has usually led me down the kill-joy process I mentioned in #1. Inverting that process and prioritizing ‘fun’ as the ultimate success, and skill as secondary, has been a game changer. I’d rather be an old lady still hooting and hollering on ankle biters than learn how to surf 20’ waves this year and lose my passion. Been there done that with skiing, learned a lot, don’t want to do it again.
Something that has helped me with defining what success looks like (which by the way, I feel is a worthy prompt for all life endeavors) is: ‘What am I willing to sacrifice to achieve this version of success in this thing? What am I unwilling to sacrifice?’
#4: BE WILLING TO TRY A DIFFERENT APPROACH
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “If you do what you did, you’ll get what you got.”
Something that I’ve started to practice is actually based on an Ayurvedic principle that is said mostly in context of healing imbalances in the body: ‘Like increases like, opposites heal.’ In the context of body wellness, it’s intuitive and makes sense: if you’re dealing with inflammation, you don’t eat more inflammatory foods or do more inflammatory activities, you decrease them. If your skin and body are dry, you eat more oily foods and drink more warm water and eat less dry foods like chips and popcorn which dry out the digestive tract and body at large, etc. When taken in a broader context, I’ve been applying it to my life in situations I’m trying to repattern (s/o to my teacher Sam Norman for this prompt): ‘If my normal approach to this situation would be to ____, then what would the opposite of that be? Could the opposite approach be healing?’ It can lead to interesting new considerations at the least, and my experience has been that giving them a try at least gives me new information.
#5: ‘SHOWING UP’ FOR THE PROCESS CAN BE CREATIVE, PERMISSIVE, AND EASY
This has been the most interesting and slightly counterintuitive learning point for me.
Like I said, I get tremendous satisfaction from improving at stuff and learning how to do things better. Honing the craft per se. But, as we all know, that also requires getting past hangups, obstacles, and resistance at some point. Getting better means showing up, regularly, even when we don’t want to, right? So my inquiry around ‘how to push myself when I’m feeling resistance but not make myself hate the process’ has surprised me with what I’ve found.
I’ve had my biggest breakthroughs (both in surfing and freediving) when I’ve given myself full permission to NOT do the thing if I am not feeling it. Like totally 100 percent permission to bail.
The caveat has been that I usually try to show up to the activity and just see how I feel with no expectations to do anything I don’t feel like. In fact, I did this with my skiing when it came to risky things — if I was having an off-day or wasn’t feeling it, I would take it easy. I knew that pushing at all costs winds up in bad decisions or outcomes. Yet somehow, I didn’t let this mindset carry over when approaching general resistance or general learning processes. Until now.
I know this isn’t groundbreaking or new. It’s just been so surprisingly rewarding to make more progress from less push. Finding creative ways to show up that feel like they require just a little bit of effort on my part — but not pulling teeth — has been where the dance lies.
This looks like: on mornings when I’m feeling a little sluggish and resistant to going out surfing, especially because it’s going to be a bigger swell and I’m nervous, I’ll say: “I’m just going to go with Pete out on the dinghy. If I just watch the waves and drink my coffee, that’s a win. It’ll be beautiful and I’ll be glad I’m out! I’m just going to show up and see how I feel.”
There have been days I don’t get in the water and I just drink my coffee, but I watch and learn from the other surfers out there and soak in the beauty of the surroundings. To give myself permission to NOT do the thing and have it be ok actually builds trust in myself.
And then there are days when I surprise myself — I get out there and I feel a little intimidated, but the fact that I have no expectations makes me say to myself, “Hey, I could just hop in the water and paddle to the shoulder. I don’t even need to try to catch a wave, I’ll just get next to the mix.” One small step will lead to another, and sometimes, before I know it, I’m surfing the best waves of my life. But the process is organic. It’s fun! Who knew?! What a concept!
It’s making me realize that I actually can learn how to keep the love alive AND get better at the things I care about, which is something I was afraid I’d never be able to do. That fact has kept me from pursuing a good many things I loved because I was afraid of ruining them. How silly is that?! Well, it’s not silly — it makes sense — but still, YEEHAW! I feel like a kid in the candy store of life. And if I can repattern my relationship to surfing, overcome my relentless perfectionism, and get past my intense inner critic, you can too.
I hope that at the very least, this has helped give you permission to accept yourself exactly as you are, and where you are at, in this particular moment. Whether you have a mediocre doggy paddle or are an Olympic-level swimmer, whether you are like a toddler or like a zen monk when you are hangry, I cannot speak enough of the empowering profundity of embracing all parts of myself, especially the parts and tendencies I initially resist, in order to reimagine new pathways and reveal new doors for myself.
I hope that there have been snippets here to help you love in even deeper ways what brings you joy, and bits that have helped you feel less alone if you are struggling with burnout. There are so many ways to move through life — let’s have fun with it, shall we?!
About Angel Collinson
As Angel puts it, she is a “skier of mountains, baby sailor of boats. Singer of songs, hounder of rocks. Haver of good times and lover of this planet.”
2 comments on “Angel Collinson: How to Not Burn Out: 5 Lessons from a Stoked Kook”
Thanks for sharing-the simplicity of these truths feel gentle, powerful and generous.
Love the fact that you’re so conscious of your wellbeing and continue to explore ways to face challenges, make adjustments, celebrate a moment no matter how big or small it may seem. From reading your article, I feel that you have spent a great deal of time thinking and reflecting. I am not great with words so verbalizing my thoughts don’t come naturally. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and journey with us. I admire your determination and courage, Angel. Stay true to yourself and wishing you all the best in everything you put your mind into. Enjoy the process, outcome, whatever that maybe. Don’t worry, Be HAPPY ❤️Cheers, Iris