On a surfing expedition in the Maldives, Lee Beck found himself in trouble, but he knew he’d have a chance of surviving if he could hold his breath, maintain his composure, and count to six–the number of waves in a typical set. The waves kept coming, and Lee kept counting, and he would have to wait for 13 waves to pass before he could emerge from under the water.
It wasn’t the first time Lee found himself in a fight for survival, and it wouldn’t be the last. But not all of life’s challenges are extreme and the lessons taught are just as valuable.
In his new book, Thirteen Waves, Lee shares autobiographical stories that provide insightful guidance and timeless advice. It’s a curation of experience and wisdom from a single father for his three sons, designed to inspire thoughtful decision making in a changing world.
Drew Appelbaum: Hey listeners, my name is Drew Appelbaum, and I’m excited to be here today with Lee Beck, author of Thirteen Waves: A Reflection on Challenges, Failures, and Lessons Learned. Lee, thank you for joining, welcome to the Author Hour podcast.
Lee D. Beck: I appreciate it, thanks for the time.
Drew Appelbaum: Can you kick us off by giving us a rundown of your professional background?
Lee D. Beck: Yeah, that should be easy, because most of the book has some context surrounding my professional background. I’ve been fortunate. Coming out of college, I had some personal experiences that shaped what I wanted to do and was an assistant professor and an assistant football coach at three universities and loved it. But as the book will go into a little detail, there are reasons why I departed that career, and there are regrets associated with it.
Then I pursued financial services. I was fortunate really to work with some of the leading investment management firms in the world and worked with some of, what I think, were some of the brightest people in the world, and they taught me many lessons. Some of them I wish I learned before I had to experience them, but I’ve been very fortunate for the personalities, the opportunities, and the organizations that have given me a chance.
For His Sons
Drew Appelbaum: Now, why was now the time to write this book? Were you inspired by something, was there an aha moment, maybe a life event?
Lee D. Beck: Well, I am a single father and, as any of those single mom or dads or guardians out there know, there’s no one home or around to tell your children about you. I’m not one that’s going to just start telling my boys a little bit about myself. I have three boys–they are now 17, 15, and 12. But there was a moment when they were six, four, and one when their mother decided to pursue another path. I was looking around at these three thinking, “Okay, we’ll figure it out.”
Over time, I realized, they don’t know much about me. I’m not one that’s going to force my history and my life stories on them, unsolicited. I started writing a number of articles and stories, it was kind of small letters to them about experiences that I have had, and most of them ended up being challenges or failures, and I started pulling out lessons. That ultimately resulted in a collection of experiences, which ultimately turned into the book.
There were a couple of other personal experiences that really forged my commitment to finishing and publishing the book. Make no mistake about it, this book was written for three boys, and I never really thought anyone else would get it, nor would anyone else be that interested.
Drew Appelbaum: Were there any learnings or breakthroughs that you had while writing the book? Maybe just from your introspective journey or some outside research that you did?
Lee D. Beck: Yes, so many. First, writing about myself is pretty vulnerable and I never really thought it was anything that interesting to write about, and I read about others often. There are so many great stories out there and experiences to draw from. I just never looked at my own being associated with those. But, as I wrote, each chapter is a true experience in my life, and reflecting on those times, they were pretty emotional. I didn’t realize how involved I was or how deeply I had drawn on those experiences over time and many times didn’t even let them out.
There are chapters where I’ve probably read and re-edited a hundred times, but still choked me up or maybe bring a tear to my eye, and others make me pause and shake my head going, “God, how did I do that? How did I make that decision when it seems so obvious it wasn’t the right one?”
It was counseling, but it allowed me to really close a lot of chapters in my life and hopefully give my three sons, and maybe someone else who picks up the book, some ideas of how to go about it, how to think differently.
It’s not a, “I figured it all out, and here’s what you should do.” It’s not that book. It’s just, “Here’s what I went through, here’s what I learned from it, and hopefully, you can take something out of it that will make your life a little easier if you approach something like this in the future.”
One Man’s Life
Drew Appelbaum: What can readers expect from this book?
Lee D. Beck: A tremendous amount of sincerity, authenticity, a lot of vulnerability, a lot of openness about one man’s life and the circumstances he stumbled across. I created some of them that were brought in to where I lived, or who my mom and dad were.
I think, if there’s one meaning to this that really resonated with me was, if someone read one chapter and felt similar to a life experience that they had–it doesn’t have to be exact, and it created the interest to have a dialogue or ask the question to their guardian, to their mom, their dad, or vice versa to their son or daughter, or nephew, or niece, to start a dialog and say, “Did you have anything happen like this?” Or, “I had something kind of like this, I’d like to talk to you about it to see if you did.” If that conversation happens, because of this book, one chapter, one sentence, then I’m pretty proud, then it was worth more than three boys getting the book.
That’s what I’m hoping they get out of it, the sense that they’re not alone, we all have really severe challenges but if you pick yourself up and keep walking, you’re going to be okay. I’m all right. I’m far from perfect and I haven’t figured it out, but I’m alright and you will be too.
Drew Appelbaum: You begin the book with the line, “I believe society has lost its way in raising boys to be great men.” Can you tell us why you think that?
Lee D. Beck: There’s a lot out there about how to think, how to feel, how to play, how to study, but what does it mean to be a good person? What does it mean to be a good man?
I think our society is at this crossroads today. Look at the history that men have played, look at the outsized history men have played in terms of a lot of negative experiences for others. We can talk about rights, women’s rights, we can talk about racism, we can talk about bullying, we can talk about so many different things, and men seem to have an outsized position in many of these negative stories that we read about in today’s society.
I question–are we doing the right thing? Are we giving the right guidance to boys before they become men, of what it means to be a good man? What does it mean to be a great partner? What does it mean to be a good father? I think society has done an injustice of trying to suppress men, to say, “You shouldn’t feel, you shouldn’t think, you shouldn’t consider,” and it’s almost been sequestered.
I think, in today’s society, you should be thinking more, you should be feeling more, you should have more compassion. I don’t think society over time has done a great job with that. I think we’re awakening to, what it means to be a man.
I think it’s a different experience today than it’s ever been, and for good reason.
Drew Appelbaum: Yeah, absolutely. You end each chapter of the book with a letter to your children, which references the lesson learned from each respective chapter. Can you tell me why you chose to write those letters and is that something you had done previously or did you just start this with the book?
Lee D. Beck: Yeah, it makes me laugh whenever I think about it, because I think I know why I wrote this book and I know who I wrote it to. That took away a lot of the fear of publishing it because, at the end of the day, I wrote it for my three sons, to say, “This is what I went through and if you can take anything away from this to help you, whether I’m here or not, great.”
I know why I wrote it, I wanted to help them if I was ever gone, and there are some reasons behind it in the book, where I was forced to start thinking about, I need to publish this or actually give it to them. It can’t just be a thought. But I wrote this letter because, if anyone who has boys, first, I hope they read it, or maybe it’s an audio book that they can listen to. They’re teenage boys now, the first thing they think of is not, “Yeah, I’d love to read dad’s book.”
At the end of every chapter, I didn’t want them to guess what I was trying to tell them, or what I did wrong, or what I experienced that could be experienced in a different way.
I wanted to simplify it in a letter. Boys watch what you do, they don’t always listen to what you say, and I thought, if I could just pull this together at the end with a short letter to them, it would allow them to think about it and pause, maybe just for a second, to think, “Okay, I get it.” They wouldn’t be searching for any clue or consideration of what dad was trying to point out. That’s why it resonated with me so much.
Drew Appelbaum: How did it feel opening up like this? As you mentioned, you’re very honest with your life in the book and you’ve really made yourself extremely vulnerable. Is this something new for you?
Lee D. Beck: Very. Yes and no, but I would say yes. This is a great side to this is I knew who I was writing it for, and it sounds repetitive, and why–three boys and why.
I remember talking to the publisher. I gave the manuscript to them, and I really wanted them to help me correct or simplify it.
They handed it to a couple of writers and they said, “This is really good. You should think about publishing this. I think more than three boys could benefit from this if someone has the courage to open it and read it. Think about it.”
That’s where the fear started to come in that, I’ve never really sat and opened up my life. There were some really personal experiences in this book that are hard to write or even talk about.
In the first chapter, like I said, tears still come to my eyes, no matter how many times I read it because I can see it, I can visualize it, I can feel it, and it’s hard. So, letting the world read it, boy, when I really thought about that, it was really hard to say okay, but I kept grounding myself that if there’s one boy, one girl, one mom, one dad, one anybody that reads a chapter and says, “I had something like that.” Or, “I see how you thought through it. I’m not alone, it’s great to know,” or, “He got through it, I will too,” or maybe “I’ll have a dialog with my daughter, son, mom, dad, guardian to see if they had anything like this and how they felt about it.”
It’s really hard to publish to the world and get the word about the critique of my writing. But then to say, well, it’s about my own life, it’s kind of like the double whammy. How many times do you have to open yourself up?
So, yes, fearful, scared, but proud at the same time, and every day I just ground myself in, “I know why I wrote this, I know who I wrote it to, if anyone else benefits, that’s great.”
Drew Appelbaum: Now the book goes through 13 lessons throughout your life, and I’d love to dig into a few of them. Let’s dive into number eight, and the lesson is, live outside your comfort zone, and that’s actually the story that led to the title of the book.
Can you relive this experience you had for us and tell us the lesson learned, and then maybe what the letter to your kid says if you remember?
Lee D. Beck: Funny thing, I actually remember when the publisher said, “Hey.” Scribe was phenomenal in helping me get to this to a final state. I can’t thank them enough. I wrote to them and said, “Well, I appreciate your help and interest and all of this, but I only need three books, three for my sons and one for me.” He said, “Do you remember the letter? Because it feels it’s been years in the making and a lifetime in the making.”
Summarizing that story, getting outside your comfort zone, when I decided I wanted to travel, to really simplify and focus on Thirteen Waves, I was out in the Indian ocean, and we had taken a floatplane after 14 days of surfing near the Maldives. We had taken a floatplane out to an extreme opportunity to surf, and there were open reefs and a bigger swell. Paddling in was roughly about 300 yards to where the break was.
I had prepared for a few months of swimming to make sure my endurance would be strong enough, and they said, “You really should be able to hold your breath for over two minutes, two and a half minutes, when you are out there, in case you get pressed under the water and you’re held down there based on a big swell or set.”
We’re having a great experience. I was a little tired after a couple of hours and caught a wave, and I am no Kelly Slater. I don’t profess to anyone that I am a great surfer, I just enjoy it. I love it. I was out there with some phenomenal people, and I got caught on the inside, which means where the wave’s wall starts to close, and my leash wrapped around a coral that was underneath the water. I already had cuts all over my feet from the prior 14 days in different locations, so it was pretty sharp, and I knew that, but I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get back up above the water.
As each wave closed on me, I was trying to pull on my leash, which was wrapped around the coral. My surfboard was banging against me, it was pushing me towards the rest of the coral reef, and I thought, “Well, I’m either going to undo my leash and get rolled into the coral, which is going to be painful, and it’s going to get to my skin, my back, my neck. I don’t know what that outcome is going to feel like. If I can just hold on,” but I was barely getting my breath as each wave closed on me.
After the second wave, I said, “Okay, let’s just count. Count to six to calm myself down.” There were usually six to seven waves in a set, then it will be over, and you can manage your breath. I kept counting three, four, and my head is bobbing up grabbing the air and going underneath, and I am looking at my leash, and I am starting to get a little panicked because I am thinking about the outcomes.
But I remembered a quote from the day before, of someone else surfing from Hong Kong and he was a free diver, that said, “You know the human body can stay underwater more than 60 seconds after you’ve had those convulsions. There are still 60 seconds left of air.” It calmed me down, and I said, “Okay, if I get the convulsions, I can hold it and I have another 60 seconds. I can do this,” so I just counted, seven, eight, ten, it went to 13, and by 12 or 13 I said, “This has got to be the end.” My breath was getting short and after 13 it pressed me down and then just subsided. It was interesting because as it subsided, the pressure of the reef came off me, and I was able to move under, grab my leash off the reef, grab my board, and get on top.
It was such an extreme experience, and I was so worried about surviving, and keeping my breath, and keeping my composure, and the next second I am paddling on my longboard, looking down at this beautiful coral reef underneath me, with all of these fish and it looked like an aquarium. With the contrast of how severe my thinking was seconds ago to the beauty of nature in the water and the experience around me, I thought “Boy, this is it.”
You can get through anything if you pause, think, and consider what you have to do. There are going to be waves that are always going to come, and there are going to be good experiences and bad, and how do you work through it? I was just paddling out thinking, “Boy, what a gift.”
It started to evolve from there, as you read about in the rest of the book.
A Transformative Year
Drew Appelbaum: Now, let’s dig into one more of the lessons, which is very personal, and it’s actually the experience you had with your uncle passing recently. Can you tell us just a little bit about that and then maybe the overall lesson you learned from that experience?
Lee D. Beck: That was a tough time. You know, the year started with my mom having cancer and she was telling me about her life. The one thing that cancer does give to you is it gives you time to talk to them before they go. She called me, and we started in January, and she said she had another 12 months to live. Well, she didn’t. She passed on February 4th, and I had that time to spend with her.
How does that relate to my uncle? Well, after February 4th, I thought, “Okay, let me deal with this. Just get up, and breath, and figure it out, and work hard, and do all the right things.” It took a few weeks, and then COVID started to really make its entrance into the US, and we started to become aware of it in early March.
I got a call from my cousin about the third week of March and she said, “Uncle Bruce, or dad, has COVID and he’s in the hospital, and I don’t think he’s going to make it.”
I said, “When did this happen?” She said, “We just learned. Wednesday, he started feeling bad, Friday, they took him to the hospital, they tested him on Saturday morning. They came in and said, ‘90% of your organs are failing’.” He said, “Well, how much time do I have? Do I have months? Days?” And they said, “You only have hours or maybe a day. See who you can see.”
But he had been locked in a room with no windows, and no one could see him, and they had the hazmat suit, and the nurse called me, and she was about to put on the helmet, and said, “I am going to let you talk to your uncle because he wants to speak to you over FaceTime.” She carried the phone in on FaceTime, and she’s stayed at a distance, and he made some comical remarks to start because he always tried to. He was just a great role model for me.
To look and see a man by himself, with nobody around, and he knew nobody could get to him, and to say, “Lee, I miss you and I miss the opportunities we planned for and we didn’t get.” There were the pain and regret of, how could I not have done more and been around more? All of those plans that we changed or altered, that was foolish in my regard. There was a loss there that was bigger than just losing him. He was my mom’s brother, so losing mom and him in such a short period of time, had a large impact on my life and how I think.
That was really hard, and it made me pause and wonder, do we really take advantage of the opportunity to be around the people that we love and that matter the most? Because life can get in the way. It reminds me of that comment I always hear from some friends that say, “If you really want to hear a good laugh, tell God what your plans are tomorrow.” So, yeah, that was a tough one.
I don’t know if I should say thanks for asking that, because it is hard to talk about.
Drew Appelbaum: I’m sorry for your loss. It’s been a tough year for sure, but it says something that you got to write about it and remember him in that way. I think it’s really special and important to pass that learning onto future generations.
Lee D. Beck: Yeah, I hope they take that one away. People aren’t around as long as you think, and you truly do miss them when they go. There are many nights I wake up thinking, “Boy, I wish I just had one more time, just one more conversation.”
Drew Appelbaum: Which lesson in the book would you say is most important or was most important to you that maybe you wish you knew in your earlier days?
Lee D. Beck: I thought you would ask this, and it is a great question but it is an easy answer to me, maybe surprisingly. It’s who you choose to spend your life with, whether it is your partner, your wife, your husband, however you regard them.
I never really had anyone tell me–we all know if we get married or we select a partner and we live with them, however we chose to, we all know that’s important, but no one ever expressed to me all of the implications, all of the connections, all of the impacts.
Who you chose to be part of your life and spend every day with matters more than I think any other decisions you’re ever going to make. They impact your friends, your family, where you’re at, what you think, your personal experiences, everything you think of, they have an imprint on. If I could give them guidance, I would say just be really thoughtful about how you consider your partner.
I give some ideas about how to think about it in the book, but they’re not foolproof. I haven’t figured it out, and nobody has the perfect answer, but if you put some thought into it, some simple thought, I think you can get to a much better place easier than I think a lot of us that grow up and think we haven’t figured out. But that decision to me resonates because I think there’s nothing in your life that doesn’t get touched by the decision of who you chose to spend the rest of your life with or your time with.
Not a How-To Book
Drew Appelbaum: Now, which lesson do you think would be most important or will resonate the most with your kids and why?
Lee D. Beck: I never wrote the book thinking that and, quite frankly, I’ve never thought of that question. I’ll answer it as sincerely as I can, which is, that’s up to them. I didn’t write this book to tell them what to do. The introduction to me is more important than many of the chapters because it tells my boys I didn’t have it figured out. I still don’t. I still make mistakes, I still will.
This is not a how-to book. Whatever is in here that you take away that’s important to you, or maybe you didn’t think about before, or you didn’t think about it in this way, great.
Someone once told me, when I first wrote the book, “You should prioritize the lessons and the way you think they’re important from the first one being the most important all the way to the back.” I said, “Well, that is me telling them how they should think, and I am not trying to do that to them or anyone that chooses to pick this book up.”
Here’s what I experienced and here’s when it happened in my life. Whatever resonates the most to you that’s great, good for you, and if it is just one out of them, well, it’s better than zero and I am glad I wrote it.
Drew Appelbaum: Lee, writing a book, especially like this one, which is just so real and raw and will help so many people, is no small feat. So, congratulations on finishing the book.
Lee D. Beck: Thank you. It was by far the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life, and I think I have gone through some difficult things.
Drew Appelbaum: If readers could take away just one thing from the book, and it doesn’t have to be a lesson that you wrote about, what would it be?
Lee D. Beck: No matter how one day feels, one year, one month, and 2020 feels like it’s lasted for a decade, you’re going to be okay. People care about you. There is always another way, no path is predetermined, you’re going to be okay, and there’s probably more people out there that care about you than you realize. If you just open up and share some questions, and you ask and listen more, you are going to find your life to be more thoughtful, more full.
Don’t always be the one talking, share, and listen, and you’re going to be in a better place. There are a lot of people that care about you. That’s the one big take away.
Drew Appelbaum: This has been a pleasure and I am so excited for people to check out this book. Everyone, the book is called Thirteen Waves, and you can find it on Amazon. Lee, besides checking out the book, where can people find you?
Lee D. Beck: Well, if I am not surfing, which is not as much as I’d like to be, I am with my boys, helping them figure out school, and essays, or at their athletic team events, or with my better half, who is probably the best person I’ve ever met in my life. So, if you can find me in one of those circles, come up and say hello, and I’ll ask you the same question every time. What resonated with you? I appreciate you just taking the time and the courage to read it. Thank you.
Drew Appelbaum: Do you have an online presence for people that can connect with you as well?
Lee D. Beck: No. That is an interesting question. I was asked if I wanted to do a big media campaign about this and I chose not to because there’s no business out of this. There are no accounts being opened out of this, there’s no reference. I really would like for someone to say, “I loved this book, I want to give it to so and so,” and, if that’s how this book makes its travel around the world or reviews around the world, then that is the way the book is meant to be taken.
I don’t have a way to be reached in terms of online but, if you find me, I promise I’ll write to you, I’ll listen, and I’ll be more than happy to talk.
Drew Appelbaum: That’s amazing. Lee, thank you so much for coming on the show today, and congratulations on the book.
Lee D. Beck: Thank you. I really appreciate it. Have a great day.