Coming up for air


When people ask me simple questions like, what do I do, or where do I live, there’s usually a delayed pause as I try to search for a category I might fit or a place I might belong. The best description I can give is that I am a multi-passionate being, my homeland is and always will be Ireland but I live a nomadic existence. In my sporting life, in school and university I was told that if I didn’t narrow my focus I would end up being Jack of all trades but master of none. Such a damaging statement, how can you ever discover all of your passions if you don’t explore…? I am an explorer, a seeker. To be an explorer is the most human thing, we are all explorers. Exploration takes us beyond known limits, ignites our curiosity and stimulates our imagination. Ultimately we explore to know ourselves better.


As a surfer I feel at home in an unpredictable, powerful and constantly changing environment. I’m comfortable with the uncertainty and embracing the unknown. My life is one of constant motion but last summer I became stuck, everything was moving so fast I couldn’t keep steady in the movement or discern the flow in the stillness. The conscious choices I had made felt like obligations.  When feeling stuck I’ve realised the healthiest solution is to shift your perspective. Usually I get this by going surfing but the sun was hot and the sea was flat so I went to the park to do handstands instead. Nothing like going upside to get the blood pumping some energy around the body again. After the handstands, I sat in a cafe with my friends, animatedly talking about my next project – to make a documentary about female surfing pioneers, in Iran. My conversation was overheard by a tall blonde Dutch surfer who introduced himself. Floris had just returned from a surf trip in Sierra Leone and was planning to do a similar film project there. He told me about a project out there called, Tribewanted – a community-based, eco-retreat by a guy called Ben Keene, I was fascinated. When I dug a little further I discovered that the seed for the project was planted during a program with THNK. If that’s not serendipity then I don’t know what is. Luckily for me I was in Amsterdam for the summer and lived near THNK’s amazing HQ in an old brick gas-works building in Westerpark, so I dropped in for a visit to learn more.



THNK describes itself as a school for creative leadership on a mission to develop the next generation of creative leaders that will have a societal impact on the world. They don’t just generate ideas but they make shit happen. Their Creative Leadership program uses sexy words like ‘quest’ and ‘sensing’ to reframe ‘personal development’ and ‘research’. Most importantly THNK creates a space to bring together inspirational leaders to engage with and learn from each other. It felt like an opportunity to find my flow again.  After so long going solo, as a surfer, explorer, and the last 3 years doing a PhD – all individual, lonely, solo-pursuits – a new network of serendipitous connections began to evolve around me once I reached out to THNK and long before I knew I would become a participant.



It’s been a week and I’m just coming back down to earth after my first module on THNK’s Creative Leadership program with 34 incredible, inspiring leaders from around the world. I can’t begin to capture the immensity of all that I experienced in one of the most intense weeks of my life. My brain was certainly pushed and pulled in directions it’s never been before but more than that, something deep within seems stirred up. Perhaps a better way of describing the feeling is like coming up for air after a long, deep dive.


I will try to distill the essence of the experience for me…

It felt like having a mirror held up to my Self, being able to feel the resonance of my own behavior through other’s reactions, sharing and feedback. I learned the importance of flexing our courage muscle so we can dive deep down to uncover hidden strengths and unravel so-called weakness. Even though I may not yet know how my dreams, intentions or goals will manifest, by pursuing them I come to know myself better and I am transformed along the way. We explored our passion and purpose in playful and challenging ways. I discovered the rudder and the sails of my seafaring soul (Kahil Gibran) – my purpose and my passion. The biggest gift of all, for me, was finding a tribe where I feel like I belong. It is because of the diversity of our perspectives and experiences combined with our shared passions (including spontaneous bollywood dancing) that there is such meaningful connection.



I’ll be honest, I was shattered after this first module but full of a new kind of energy – the kind of energy that leaves you feeling, raw, vulnerable, open and alive. For me it comes back to the importance of sensing the flow in stillness, being steady in movement.  As the super creative surfer-artist, Ran Ortner says, ‘We can’t be at our most responsive unless our nerves are quieted.’ At the end of it all I lay under a cherry blossom tree in Westerpark in the fading light of the day, the Spring sun leaving behind a freshness. It had a calming effect on me. The delicate beauty of the flowers unfolding, emerging for the first time after a long winter. They reminded me of the vulnerability and resilience of my own heart. Just as our bodies need to recover after an intense workout, so too do our minds and hearts.  So take a deep breath because it won’t be long before the deep dive begins again.


Note: The title for this blog was inspired by my friends’ stunning exploration of the relationship between surfer and the sea at Finisterre.