Through the Eyes of an Educator: Life lessons from a paddleboard

by Stacey Ebert /
Stacey Ebert's picture
Oct 02, 2023 / 0 comments

“It (neuroplasticity) refers to the physiological changes in the brain that happen as the result of our interactions with our environment. From the time the brain begins to develop in utero until the day we die, the connections among the cells in our brains reorganize in response to our changing needs. This dynamic process allows us to learn from and adapt to different experiences.” 
- Celeste Campbell (n.d.).

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Life lessons from a paddleboard

In the northern hemisphere, it’s officially autumn. While some jump for joy at the pumpkin-spiced everything and apple-picking expeditions, others savor sunshine and relish every moment of warmth; I’m in that category. It was on one of these days on a paddleboard journey where I felt a shift in learning…and lessons showed up in, like so often, an unexpected place. 

Life lessons come in all shapes and sizes. Spend five minutes on social media, and if you look, you’re inspired by stranger’s acts of kindness, wisdom out of the mouths of babes, and sometimes, people showing us exactly how we don’t want to act or the opinions and actions we no longer tolerate in our own dance space. We’re smacked by constant news, reminded of the fragility of life, and impacted by the magic of a moment. 

We have more power over our own attitudes, energy, and growth than we give ourselves credit. We have the ability to shift our focus, change our minds, and realign our perspectives. It’s up to us to take the steps—we can change our stories.

It’s officially the fourth quarter of the year; now what? For some, it’s a time of reflection, to reinvigorate their energy for the last few months of the calendar year. For some, it’s a plow ahead time to dive fully into wherever their time and attention is right now, be it school, projects, passions, or otherwise. And for others, it’s a time of planning or navigating significant (and sometimes difficult) upcoming events and occasions or dreaming and manifesting those growth possibilities in the months to come. 

Where do you see yourself? 

At present, the world continues to be in all sorts of funky turmoil. Perhaps, if we look to history, whether that be socially, environmentally, politically, or otherwise, we notice there’s always something that’s out of sorts, wonky, or off kilter in the world. It’s how we respond to these out of sorts events, how we notice the space between, and how we enter the world in all that messy middle that matters. 

It’s our daily acts, the way we speak to ourselves, the energy we allow in our lives, and the places we share our hearts that dictate more than we imagine. 

Wisdom is everywhere, if only we seek to look. Lessons are ever-present, if only our egos are open to listening. How do we notice the lessons—and more importantly, how do we share this act of noticing with the next generation? While it may fit more in a build your own curriculum version or one that uses the world as its classroom, it’s vital to infuse it in those of the more traditional. Beneficial in sciences and math as much as social studies and the arts, the act of listening, paying attention, noticing the quintessential lessons that often come from unforeseen avenues expands the human capacity. 

Empowering the EQ (emotional quotient/emotional intelligence) broadens our communications skills, fosters empathy, taps our curiosity muscles, and strengthens the ability to cope with challenges present or future. These types of life lessons reach beyond the individual subject to a greater whole student approach—one centered on the big lessons that often come from the tiniest voices. Embracing the openness and curiosity to hear them, listen to them, and perhaps infuse them into our expansive life approach could make all the difference. 

Recently, atop a rented paddleboard, I found myself struck by the magnitude of moments. In view: a marina, city skyline, naval base, bike trail, rocky shoreline, golf course, residences, and an ocean beyond the road. The sky was clear, the bay calm, and the voices of nature spoke loudly. 

Personally, I was navigating loss, tragedy, strong emotions, grand changes, uncertainty of new challenges, and exciting potential leaps. Amidst a few distance swimmers, two kayakers, one boat, and a whole host of birds and fish, there were lessons, right in front of my very eyes. 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Life lessons from a paddleboard

Perhaps you have your own moment of magnitude, your own space that became so calm you could hear the words beyond the noise, or your own experience where the lessons showed up. Whatever those moments, they shift your focus, bring about the bigger picture, and remind our inner spirit that there’s more beyond the reef – when you’re open to listening, the whole game can change. Are you in?

4 life lessons from a paddleboard

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Life lessons from a paddleboard

Gain Perspective 

“You have the capability to change your life all with a shift in perspective.” - Demi Lovato

As humans, we have the ability to adapt. Infants who crawled became toddlers who walk and adults who run, jump, and move their bodies. That adaptability extends beyond the physical; we have the power to change our brains. 

Take a look around, what do you see? What is the space showing you? 

A growth mindset reaffirms that change can happen, people can adapt. The science of positive psychology tells us that “a person with a growth mindset believes that he or she can get smarter, better, or more skilled at something through sustained effort – which is exactly what neuroplasticity tells us. You might say that a growth mindset is simply accepting the idea of neuroplasticity on a broad level” (positivepsychology). Science tells us we can change our brains, Mr. Rogers implores us to look for the helpers; perspective demands we look for the lessons. 

Stand up paddleboarding taps our core muscles, while perspective often calls into action our core values. 

The paddleboard lessons: both are vital, somatically intuitive, and originate in the gut. Read a book, watch a movie, look at real world experiences…you’re bound to come across a protagonist who meets a challenge. 

In life, it could be a journey, conversation, experience, situation, medical struggle, monetary issue, trauma, loss, or a difficult relationship, but it’s there. A childhood story, a school milestone, a family dynamic, an eye-opening experience, a moment in time— something about it reaches deep into your soul and imprints itself on your heart. Once it’s there, it changes you.

First, you might see the situation differently, later, it’s yourself that’s changed. Your story becomes about the before and the after of that experience. Once that perspective shifts, everything changes. It’s more than okay, it’s part of what makes you you. Embrace it. 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Life lessons from a paddleboard

All Directions are Viable

“It’s not as important where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes

When paddling, we use our oar to steer, yet our choice of direction is endless. While our paths may be guided by our vision, the current, an obstacle, a motivation, the weather, or pure curiosity, we can shift in any direction we choose. Often the direction we ‘think’ leans towards growth is up or forward, yet sometimes sideways, down, or behind can actually propel us further in our learning. 

Along our journey, we meet thousands of humans who teach us. We come in contact with setbacks, navigate challenges, ride waves, avail ourselves of helping hints and hands, and take a rest when we need it. Sometimes we change course, set down for a while, pause, reassess, ask for help, or return to the beginning and start anew. And, whether the seas are rough or the conditions optimal, we return, ready to get back up on our board once again. 

The paddleboard lessons: watch where you’re going, secure your boundaries, and know you can always turn around to head in a different direction. Growth isn’t linear; all directions are viable. 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Life lessons from a paddleboard

Our Choices Matter

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” - J.K. Rowling

A few years ago, I had the privilege of listening to Dr. Edith Eger. As this Holocaust Survivor shared her story, you could hear a pin drop. She survived. She lived. Her refusal to let anyone have power over her mind was her choice then, and continues to be daily. Throughout her life, she’s focused on choosing her attitude, the many levels of healing from trauma, forgiveness, and choosing joy every single day. This prolific author, exceptional human, and esteemed psychologist inspires millions through her presence, attitude, healing practice, teachings, and story. 

We all make choices. Perhaps they’re minute to minute, daily, monthly, annually, or perhaps on a magnitude unimaginable; yet our choices can change us in ways we can yet comprehend. 

The paddleboard lessons: we have strength to navigate the choppy waters and can always seek to find a bit of calm in every storm. I chose to limit my time on the rougher, wake-filled water, and return to the glassy, wind free zone, because on that day, my mind and heart needed more time in contemplation and ease since life was a bit heavy.

It might be a course correction, a relationship situation, a move, decision, school related or life focus one, but our choices show more about our character, our tendencies, and our authentic self than we think. Some feel difficult, others made without distinction. As the Head of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry so often reminds us, those choices will always show who we truly are. And remember, we always have the power to choose again, even if that choice is focused on our own attitudes, responses, and life approach.

Lessons Come from Everywhere

“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.” - Helen Keller

I’ve been blessed with multiple mentors and teachers in my life. I've learned from camp counselors, teachers, advisors, colleagues, loved ones, friends, nature, experiences, campers, and students. Some experiences, especially those travel ones, changed me for the better. Natural disasters, deaths, and medical situations challenged me and eventually showed me life-changing lessons. Through all the difficulties in the messy middle, there’s growth. 

The paddleboard lessons: be grateful, take in the moment, pay attention to where you are and what you feel right now, listen to what those feelings tell you. 

Whether you respond to the voices of Martha Beck, Mel Robbins, Oprah, Thich Nhat Hanh, The Rock, Jay Shetty, or one of the myriad of meaningful, motivational changemakers among us, there are lessons beyond their words and perspective shifts to be gleaned from each one of them. A few mention finding a focus of your own North Star: someone or something that guides your journey, reaffirms your dreams, and gives you space to begin to focus your compass. 

The lessons may come from unexpected spaces or familiar voices, imaginative television storylines or real life hard on the heart experiences, acts of kindness by strangers or words and art that speak to you. The point is to remain flexible, engage your curiosity muscles, open your ears, and listen. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else as long as it makes sense to you. I mean, even when the rest of the town thought he had utterly lost his mind, Kevin Costner’s character listened. If he hadn’t, we wouldn’t have the magic of The Field of Dreams.  

Whether the vessel is the paddleboard or you, the message is clear. 

Lessons come from everywhere, perspective is yours to shift, the choices we make speak loudly, and all directions can lead towards growth. You have command of the oars. Steer accordingly. 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Life lessons from a paddleboard



Please click the photo below for a collection of my Through the Eyes of an Educator columns:

Through the Eyes of an Educator: A Compendium


Stacey Ebert, our Educational Travels Editor, is a traveler at heart who met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. Stacey was an extracurricular advisor and taught history in a Long Island public high school for over fifteen years, enjoying both the formal and informal educational practices. After a one year 'round the world honeymoon, travel and its many gifts changed her perspective. She has since left the educational world to focus on writing and travel. She is energetic and enthusiastic about long term travel, finding what makes you happy and making the leap. In her spare time she is an event planner, yogi, dark chocolate lover, and spends as much time as possible with her toes in the sand.

Check out her website at for more of her travel musings.