Soul Surfer is the true-life story of professional surfer Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb). Bethany’s story is harrowing.
Bethany was an aspiring professional surfer. During one surfing session, a shark attacked Bethany and bit off her left arm at the shoulder. There was very little left of her arm.
This could have caused her to give up on surfing, on life. Yet, through her faith, she persevered. She pushed herself to get back on the surfboard, paddle back to the waves, and ride again.
Her journey didn’t come without trials. These trials and struggles are chronicled in Soul Surfer.
I have to highly recommend Soul Surfer if you haven’t already seen it. Multiple friends, including fellow leadership blogger Brian Dodd, had recommended it to me. I put it off until recently. I’m glad I finally watched it.
You will be as well. The story is well-done and not cheesy as many faith-based films have been. You will walk away with an appreciation for what she went through and what you can go through.
Not only that, but you will find Reel Leadership lessons in Soul Surfer. You’ll walk away ready to lead better.
Now, let’s get into the leadership lessons.
Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Soul Surfer
1. Bethany Hamilton:
I was born in Hawaii to two die-hard surfers. How could I not have salt water in my veins.
Soul Surfer opens with this quote from Bethany Hamilton. It explains who she is and why she does what she does.
She was drawn to the water at an early age. Her parents were surfers. They lived in Hawaii. She was bred for this.
How could she not become a surfer?
There are things we are born to do. We know deep down in our spirits this is true.
We feel a tug towards adventure. Or the tug could pull us toward sports. Some are even tugged toward leadership.
Listen to the tug in your life. You were born to do something. Do it.
2. Want to be competitive? Get competition:
Bethany also mentioned in the opening monologue that she was competitive. Seriously competitive. There was a reason behind this…
She had two brothers.
These brothers pushed her beyond what she thought she could do. Their hard work, dedication, and encouragement made her competitive. More than this, it made her a better surfer.
Competition can bring out the best in us. We have to be willing to compete where it matters.
We also have to be willing to find worthy competitors. People who are at the top of their game.
Find these people. Challenge yourself to go against them. Be competitive.
3. Get out there and do what needs to be done:
Another surf competitor, Malina Birch (Sonya Balmores), competed to ride the same wave as Bethany. Bethany saw it as Malina stealing her wave.
Her dad, Tom Hamilton (Dennis Quaid), saw what happened but wouldn’t let Bethany give up because of what happened. Rather, Tom told Bethany to get back out there, grab the next wave, and win.
How many times do we feel robbed or that we missed the next thing? A lot of times we feel this way.
We’ve got to get over feeling robbed. Feeling rob steals what we are actually put here to do.
Instead of feeling robbed, get back out there. Go do what needs to be done. And do it.
4. Change your perspective:
Bethany’s youth pastor, Sarah Hill (Carrie Underwood), was talking to her students. She used a great visual example.
On the screen, the teens saw items that were zoomed in. The students guessed what the items were. While the items were zoomed in, they couldn’t guess what they were. Only by zooming out could they see what the items actually were.
We have to change our perspective from the zoomed perspective to the overall picture. When you take a few steps back, you can see things more clearly. Don’t let your focus on the details derail you from seeing the full picture.
5. What are you sacrificing?:
Bethany had committed to going on a mission trip with her youth group. Because of her surfing success, she was backing out of the trip. She told Sarah that she was no longer able to go.
Her reasoning was she had just gained a sponsor. She needed to train. Her prior commitments had to be rearranged.
Bethany made a bad choice here. She had a commitment she wanted to back out of at the last minute because of something better presenting itself.
We do this all the time. And we’re making bad choices, just like Bethany.
We have to figure out what we’re sacrificing when we make split-second audible calls. Are we sacrificing:
- Our integrity?
- The best for what seems good?
- A good thing for a quick thrill?
Every choice we make, we are sacrificing something. Choose wisely.
6. Cheri Hamilton (Helen Hunt):
It’s your call…
Cheri is Bethany’s mom. After the incident with the youth leader, Bethany went to Cheri to complain.
She told her mom how bad Sarah had made her feel. It wasn’t fair. Bethany thought she was choosing the right thing.
Her mom, being wise, told Bethany it was her call. She got to make it and she had to live with it.
It’s your call, too. You get to make the decisions in your organization.
If someone calls you on it, you have choices. You can:
- Listen to the complaint as valid and change your mind
- Listen to the complaint as invalid and stand your ground
- Listen to the complaint and complain
The call is yours. You’re a big boy or big girl. Deal with the consequences of your call.
7. Holt Blanchard (Kevin Sorbo):
You are incredibly brave, Bethany.
Holt is the father of Bethany’s best friend Alana Blanchard (Lorraine Nicholson). Holt was with Bethany, Alana, and Alana’s brother Byron Blanchard (Jeremy Sumpter) when the shark attack happened.
In the hospital, Holt shared with Bethany that she was incredibly brave. She had stayed calm through the trauma she faced. Her calmness helped those around her be able to help her.
In leadership, the leader needs to present a calm presence. The presence you give off will infect those around you.
You can present a calm front. You can present a chaotic front. Whichever front you choose to present will rub off on those you lead.
8. Doctor David Rovinsky (Craig T. Nelson):
She is a living miracle.
Bethany was a living miracle. Doctor Rovinsky believed so too. He saw the amount of blood she had lost. It was something like 60% of her blood.
She should have been dead. Instead, she survived. She thrived. She was a miracle.
Miracles happen. Funding comes through at the last minute. Failing businesses pick back up. People change.
Be willing to accept the miracles that happen in your life.
9. Tom Hamilton:
Because you can do all things through Him who gives you strength.
Tom was talking with his daughter as she was struggling to process her new lot in life. He told her she could surf again. He believed this because of a scripture verse.
The verse is Philippians 4:13. It states I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. He modified it a bit so he could tell Bethany the truth of scripture.
You, too, can do all things through Christ if He is your Lord and Savior. He longs to know you. He longs to be the one you rely on.
Trust in Christ. Through him, all things are possible.
10. Be more concerned about others than you are about yourself:
Alana struggled to visit Bethany. She felt guilty and bad and sad all rolled into a ball of teenage emotions.
When Alana finally came to visit, Bethany was excited. She also showed an extreme adult attitude.
Bethany chose to be concerned about Alana. She asked how she was doing. She focused on Alana rather than herself.
Great leaders know they have their own issues. They also know their team members have issues that will impact their work life.
Great leaders are interested and concerned about the issues their team members are facing. They help their team members understand and process these issues.
Be a leader who is more concerned about others than they care about themselves.
11. Cheri Hamilton:
I didn’t know you could drive like that!
Neither did I!
Cheri had driven Bethany home from the hospital. When they arrived home, there was a throng of reporters waiting to descend on Bethany. Tom saw this and ran out to help.
He hopped in the car. Grabbed the steering wheel. Pointed the car toward the bushes. And drove his family to the back door of their home.
This was out of Tom’s character. He drove like a madman and helped his family.
In difficult situations, your leadership instinct will kick in. You will do things you thought you couldn’t do.
You may find yourself crunching numbers. Or you may find yourself coaching a team member.
The difficult times will allow you to do difficult things you’ve never done before.
12. Bethany Hamilton:
Sarah, how can this be God’s plan for me? I don’t understand.
Sarah cracked the happy face Bethany had been wearing. She could see there was more going on with Bethany than she let on.
When Bethany finally admitted she was struggling, she shared she was struggling to figure out how this could be God’s will.
It’s hard to see God’s will in the difficulties of our lives. The situations we find ourselves in look so dark and bleak. We don’t understand what is happening.
God’s plan can be hard, even impossible, to see in the present. We don’t have the whole picture of what is going on. We have to wait for God to reveal His plan.
Wait on God. Listen to God’s voice. Open your eyes. You will see eventually.
13. Get back in the game:
The day before Thanksgiving, Bethany wanted to get back in the water. She wanted to surf again.
Her parents were hesitant but they finally let her get back in the water. It was a glorious day.
With one arm, Bethany was able to surf. She rode a wave. She got back in the game.
We have to get back in the game when bad things happen, too. We can’t let a bad day, week, or even a year stop us from doing what we were made to do.
When life is rough, look for a way to get back in the game. Don’t stay down. That’s what the devil wants.
14. Cheri Hamilton:
Normal is so overrated.
Bethany received a prosthetic arm. The arm wasn’t what she was expecting.
It didn’t make her feel whole. The arm didn’t allow her to do what she used to be able to do.
All Bethany wanted was to look and be normal. She wasn’t.
Her mom encouraged her, though. Cheri told her daughter normal is overrated.
We’ve been taught that normal is good. Normal is what everyone strives to be.
I say kick normal to the curb. Normal is overrated.
Be yourself. Be the crazy, unique, God-made person you are.
15. Bethany Hamilton:
I don’t need easy. I need possible.
Tom had laid out plans for how his daughter could return to surfing competitions. He had mentioned he tried to make them easy. Bethany responded in a way he wasn’t expecting.
She told her dad she didn’t need easy. All she needed was possibility.
This is the mindest leaders need to hold. Leaders don’t need easy. They only need possible.
If it is possible, that means you can attempt to do it. There is a chance for success.
Don’t look for easy. Look for what is possible.
16. Compassion is okay:
Bethany went on a mission trip with World Vision (I run with Team World Vision, the running arm of World Vision, to help bring clean water to those who lack it. If you’d like to give a child clean water, you can donate here). On her trip, Bethany faced the truth. Compassion is okay.
A Thai woman told Bethany how she had lost her family. She also told Bethany another family completely perished in the Thailand tsunami. This crushed Bethany.
Sarah saw this. She also helped Bethany understand she could feel this way. This was compassion.
Our hearts will break for those we lead. As they go through the challenges of life, their issues bleed over into the office. Be willing to listen. Be willing to have compassion.
Compassion is okay. You can show it to your team.
17. Cheri Hamilton:
After returning home from her World Vision mission trip, Bethany discovered she had received a throng of letters from people around the world. There were people writing her and letting her know they were inspired by her actions. They were also looking forward to seeing her compete again.
Bethany pondered how they could be inspired by her failure. Her mother answered the question. She told Bethany is was because Bethany had tried.
People are inspired by more than your success. People get inspired to hear about the things you tried.
They know you won’t always succeed. They know big risks allow for big failures.
Hearing about your exploits and how you took big risks will inspire others. Be willing to share your big fails.
18. Tom Hamilton:
Don’t take any wave that comes along.
Bethany was struggling in the competition. Her dad knew this and he gave her great advice.
Tom told his daughter to choose carefully. Find the waves that will work for her. Take those.
Leaders are presented with a myriad of choices every day. Everything looks good. Not everything is.
Be discerning about the opportunities you choose. Choose the ones that suit you.
19. Swim to the outside:
Bethany had to catch a big wave. There hadn’t been one she could ride in a while and she was still down in the rankings.
All of a sudden, Bethany leaves the other surfers behind. She begins to swim outside of the area where the surfers had looked for waves.
Then, there it was. THE BIG ONE.
Bethany’s choice to swim to the outside and find a different spot than her competitors opened her up to the opportunity of catching the big wave.
We can do that too. We can swim to the outside and find a big opportunity.
Everyone is so focused on what their competitors are doing they miss the opportunities outside of their current focus. Look for things you can do outside of your competitors. Go for those opportunities.
20. Bethany Hamilton:
I didn’t come here to win. I came to surf.
Ohhh boy… That’s a good quote, isn’t it?
After Bethany caught the big wave, we learned the ride didn’t count. She had stood up after the buzzer.
Bethany could have been disappointed. She could have left with her head hung low. She didn’t.
Instead, her focus changed from winning to surfing. She learned to enjoy what she did.
Leaders, we have to get our focus off of winning all of the time. Winning is good… Leading is better.
You can lead others and not break sales records. You can lead others and financial woes will come your way. And you can lead others and be fired.
Your responsibility isn’t to win or chase success. Your responsibility is to lead.
So, lead and lead well.