Mick Fanning lessons to apply to your life

Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli

Erika considers Mick Fanning lessons she can apply to her life

I am sure by now you’ve seen footage of surfer Mick Fanning doing battle with a shark at a competition in South Africa this week. If you haven’t, take a look here. It is stunning. I think the moment that gets me the most is when he is swimming as fast as he can away from the shark, and then turns around and is just treading water and looking… looking… looking: having no idea where the shark might appear next.

I’m absolutely obsessed with this, for a few reasons. First, of course, is my own complete and utter terror of the ocean, mainly due to its shark-like inhabitants. To me, swimming in the ocean is like having a picnic in the Serengeti and just trusting that the lions will leave you alone.

But more than that, it’s just amazing to watch what happens. Fanning was sitting calmly on his surfboard waiting for his next wave when suddenly a shark appeared behind him and seemed to grab his board, and he totally went into battle-mode, kicking and hitting the shark until a few seconds later he went under, gone from sight for what seemed like an eternity before emerging swimming rapidly away. Meanwhile his rival, Julian Wilson, who was also in the water, saw the whole thing happening and started paddling toward Fanning and the shark, hoping he could help, despite repeated calls for him to get out of the water immediately. Toward them! He gave an emotional interview afterward, talking about his fear that he wouldn’t get there in time, all thoughts of the rivalry between them forgotten.

The human spirit is fierce.

How people come together in times of crisis is remarkable.

Split second moments really can change your life.

Also, sharks are really scary.

Though this scene was an example of what happens when your greatest fear comes true, it also makes me think about non-real-life shark moments, moments that can either take you down or leave you victorious (if a little shaken). Those things that come up out of nowhere. The unexpected.

How we handle them, and who is around to come to our support, can make all the difference in the outcome.

I don’t always lean into the battle when I’m blindsided by something—when I get a reaction I don’t expect, or when a project doesn’t go the way I planned, or when something falls in the middle of my day that throws it off course.  Instead sometimes I spend too much time moping about why it’s happening, or I immediately concede defeat. But it occurs to me now, having now watched Mick Fanning fight a shark about 100 times, that when that “shark” comes out of nowhere it’s best to stay in the battle and handle it with a relentless ferocity, keeping my head above water for as long as possible but also not giving up when I’m pulled under (and of course, not forgetting to look around for who might be swimming toward me to help).

How can you handle the unexpected today? 

Be sure to share any Mick Fanning lessons you may have below...


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Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.