Surfing Lessons

After concluding a 4.5 year chapter at Microsoft, I’ve been offline surfing and reflecting. Microsoft gifted me with so many character-shaping experiences, especially since it was my first job out of college. I learned so much from my product marketing and product management roles, building software, hardware, and mobile technologies. Here are 5 of the lessons I gleaned from this past chapter, that surfing reinforces in every session:

  1. Nothing beats consistency and fundamentals. Execution is a combination of thinking and doing, and you can never outthink the doing. Whether it’s paddling until your arms are rigid or reworking a blogpost the 8th time, there are core skills that only improve with consistent repetition. I found myself reaching for my research, writing, and storytelling tools across all four jobs and teams I had at Microsoft. I apply this same intentionality towards improving my pop up, balance, and strength on the board.
  2. Every wave is different. Sometimes you get to work on a new product launch. Other times you must put out compliance fires. You always do your best in reading how a situation might play out, but you cannot prophesize everything. Whenever I am going for a wave, I try to determine which direction it will break and how I will ride it. I have ultimately learned though, that the wave often has a mind of its own that does not care about your predictions. A beautiful rolling wave might end up crashing down and burying you underneath its power, snapping your leash or board in the process. But none of it is your fault; you did your best.
  3. You are part of something greater than yourself. Every time I am in the ocean, I am reminded of how insignificant my problems are. The waves are so powerful. The sea life continues to swim and photosynthesize. There is a whole world beyond the chatter I cloud my mind with. This is not to say to gaslight your problems away, but rather embrace a perspective shift that helps take some of the pressure off your shoulders. Surfing has allowed me to re-contextualize my reality, to shift away from the drain of what’s worrying me to the energy of what’s happening now.
  4. Timing is everything. Despite your best effort and due diligence, the stars may not align. I’m constantly reminded of this when I’m trying to predict unpredictable waves. A few minutes can make the difference between an effortless paddle out versus getting stuck between sets. A few meters can mean easily slipping over the wave versus getting pulverized by the whitewater. No matter what, it has served me to be aware and course correct as observations reveal themselves.
  5. Go with the flow. I love hobbies that teach me the true meaning behind a cliché. Ballroom dancing unpacked “it takes two to tango”, while gardening showed me the true meaning of “planting a seed”. At the core of both the surfing sport and culture is going with the flow, reminding me to focus on what I can control and to let go of what I can’t. No matter what, at the end of the day I am still fortunate to be in the ocean, contained in a body of millions of cells, spinning around the universe at thousands of miles per hour. And isn’t that a beautiful thing?

As for my next chapter, I will be pursuing my passion for human wellness by joining Sage Bionetworks, a non-profit dedicated to scientific collaboration. I am excited to be on the frontlines of cancer research, working with bright researchers and technologists to drive platform innovation for the entire computational biology ecosystem. With the lessons of my past colleagues combined with the support of my new ones, I am eager to start learning the rhythms of my new ocean. To catching more waves ahead!

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My mission is to elevate consciousness. I evangelize open science at Sage Bionetworks during the day and collect hobbies at night.

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Jiaxin Zheng

Jiaxin Zheng

My mission is to elevate consciousness. I evangelize open science at Sage Bionetworks during the day and collect hobbies at night.

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