From the office to the ocean and back.
What surfing teaches me about science.
November 2021. My research group ‘Isodrones’ is growing and busy as hell. We now have three PhD students and two temporal lab employees. I currently supervise four MSc and two BSc projects. I also teach a six-credit course entitled ‘Isotope applications in the soil-plant-atmosphere system’. Our ‘dry forest observatory’ in Costa Rica is still collecting ecohydrological data, and in 2022 we have two highlights: The final field campaign of Isodrones to Namibia and the ‘Workshop on Water Partitioning’, where we will present the first ‘interactive field site’, a virtual reality, 360° representation of our Costa Rica site. Next level sh** 😉! This year, Kathi and I also co-authored a Science paper on the Biosphere 2 Experiment! Good stuff happening! But also: I am as busy as I have never been. On the private side, my daughter Moana (Polynesian for ‘Ocean’) just turned two! My wife and I are so proud of her and happy to have had the opportunity to spend so much time with her during her first stages of life. And that leads me to the topic of this post.
Despite of all the success and good things happening, it keeps being a true challenge for me to take care of myself and not loosing balance. I do know that there are people who enjoy investing 150% of their time into work and they keep being happy. But that’s not me. I am highly efficient, creative and happy with my research and life – but I do need something to balance those high-intensity periods out in order to not burn myself. And this balance for me means often being with myself and my own thoughts. If I don’t get that break, I become that second me that is angry, unsocial and unproductive. I really don’t like it, but it happens over and over. The good thing is: When that happens, I really do the right things: isolate myself, take my time and meditate more, do sports, talk bullshit (super relaxing!). And of course: go surfing!
I realized that the degree I miss the ocean strongly correlates with my stress level: The more ocean and surfing I have in my head, the more stressed out I am. What’s behind that? Probably, the associations of my mind related to the ocean and, in particular surfing, are very positive: being relaxed, strong, self-confident, peaceful. The simplest and most effective solution would then be: go to the ocean, go surfing! And of course, that’s what I try to do as often as possible! Surfing for me is all of the following: Bring all that anger, stress, anxiety of not being good enough to the ocean and let it wash away. Realize that there’s more in life than fame and fortune. Feeling proud and strong to go out and face the unpredictable nature. Making the right (wave) choices. Let go one, fight for another one…realize that the fight was worth it or not. Learn from it. Rush of adrenalin and pure happiness when you catch the right wave. Wanting more of it. And more, and more. Not comparing yourself with others. Developing patience. How can one get this feeling permanently? – I know that this will be the next step on my personal spiritual journey. The ocean teaches so much that is highly beneficial for scientists as well. Some of the challenges are even similar, just from a different perspective.
But, as a surfer, living in Germany is not easy. On the other hand, it is rather easy to live as a researcher in Germany (at least compared to other countries). So, what to do!!!??? What is more important to me? My answer is: Both! And it is incredibly difficult to have both to satisfactory level. Can I be excellent in science with an attitude like that? – I don’t know! So far, yes 😉 I know it is important to take care of myself and that this is more important to me than success in science. I will never sacrifice my mental health for success in my job And I am also not ashamed to say that I planned my research in a way that work and life go hand in hand. Saying, my research projects are often located at a place where a surf beach is in proximity. And I do think that everybody in science should have some sort of balance. This is what I want to transmit in my group and to others. It is not healthy to have 60-hour weeks. It’s not effective. It’s nothing that makes one better in life. It’s also not fair to put a certain number of hours on a contract: what if one person does the work in 20 hours that another one does in 40 hours? Then the faster one is the one suffering because he is so effective? But surprisingly, dinosaur-behavior is surprisingly common in science! It’s up to our generation and coming ones to change that!
Stay positive, strong and happy! Mati