On a small sandy beach on Phillips Island south of Melbourne, Australia, the same scene plays itself out day after day after day.
No, I don’t mean the ritualized flirtations of hunky Aussie surfers and blonde beach babes. Though I’m sure there are important life lessons to be learned from those interactions as well.
I’m talking about the daily plight of the Blue Penguin coming home to roost after fishing at sea.
I was lucky enough to watch the penguins’ homecoming one October evening and it changed my worldview – forever. Pretty impressive for a foot-high little critter.
Here is what I learned from the world’s smallest penguin:
1. Trust the Process
Blue penguins come to shore with one aim – get the food in their bellies to their babies on shore. As soon as they land on the beach, they’re stuck between seals in the water and seagulls on land. The seals want to eat them; the gulls want to scare them and then eat the fish in their vomit.
Both look scary – both seem deadly. But the gulls are just bluffing. Learn to recognize who and what just wants to call your bluff. You have a mission and you’re meant to carry it out. Carry on.
2. Use Everything You’ve Got
Each time the penguins return to shore after fishing, they face the same predicament – get through the gulls, find their mate and nest amidst the thousands of others, and share the food they hopefully caught.
To achieve each one of these tasks, they use all of their available gifts. Unfathomable internal GPS to remember which beach they left from. Remarkable hearing and sound recognition to distinguish their mates’ calls from literally thousands of others. Hydrodynamic body shape for speed and agility in the water.
Penguins have – built right in – all the tools they need to achieve what they were created to do. So do you. Use them.
3. Take the Risk
Luckily, most of us don’t have to face the same choice as Blue Penguins – death by seal at sea or gull on land. But we certainly face the same metaphorical challenge.
Obstacles – real or imagined – loom large in front of us, preventing us from moving forward and striving for our goals. Like seagulls through a penguin’s eye, our challenges look insurmountable, even potentially fatal. They threaten to render us incapable of fulfilling our purpose and wasted from the effort.
We risk exposing ourselves – vomiting up our closely held dreams, hopes and confidence for the world to prey on – then ultimately failing 200 feet from the finish line.
But there is no choice; we have to move forward to achieve what we came here to do. Baby penguins need their food and the world needs your contribution.
So gather a group for support, look at the obstacles from all angles, hem and haw and strategize your plan of attack, then go for it. Risk losing it all. It’s the only way to succeed.
4. Serve the Greater Good
Penguins know the drill – live, breed, feed, protect – and endeavor to accomplish them as best they can.
Do they want to risk death at sea just to eat? Probably not. But they carry on because they have a duty to themselves and other penguins to survive and help the community thrive.
Many of us humans don’t have to worry about day-to-day survival. But what about thriving?
Often, we stake out a role / career / life we know we can achieve, take minimal risks, and do what’s expected. We don’t take bigger leaps because it’s scary out there; we could fail.
But it’s not about us individually. Our duty is to excel to our greatest potential for the good of the whole.
Luckily when we live in service to others, individual courage comes more easily.
5. Have Faith
I don’t profess to understand it, but that night on the beach, I felt a glimpse of deep calm and knowingness. I felt that everything is occurring in perfect timing and balance. That the world works in incredible, intricate perfection.
It was the first time I’ve been moved to tears by nature – watching the intertwined rhythms of instinct.
Although I may forget, or think I’m above, beyond, or not affected by it – life has a mission of its own. And that’s purely to live. To go through the magnificent process of existing, just to exist.
Allow yourself to be moved – to be alive – and be carried by life.
Regardless of what seals are breathing down your neck and seagulls lie ahead, have faith.
Your purpose is to express who you are and life fully supports your mission.
Now get to it!
Which of these lessons is hard for you? Why?