I just returned from a trip to the amazing Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador, best known as the place where Charles Darwin first developed the theory of evolution by natural selection. Today, 98% of the Galapagos is protected as a national park, preserving the unique species of animals and birds that exist nowhere else on earth.
Because humans are not a threat, and there are no large predators on land, the wildlife has no fear of people. You can walk right up to nesting birds, sunning lizards, or nursing sea lions, and observe them at close range. Among the many animals I got to know this way were the penguins, who swam alongside us as we snorkeled.
If you watch a group of penguins for a while, you'll discover something quite interesting. On land, penguins waddle or hop, sometimes spreading their wing-flippers to maintain balance on their narrow webbed feet. Their lack of grace is frequently comical, and the only way they can travel quickly is to flop on their bellies and slide.
In the water, however, penguins are agile and fast. A diving penguin can travel up to 17 miles per hour. They zipped past us like little torpedoes, leaving streams of bubbles in their wake. Penguins in the water are masters of their environment, while penguins on land are awkward and slow.
The behavior of penguins demonstrates a phenomenon I've often observed in people. Some environments feel natural to us, and when we are in them, we are graceful and adept. But in strange surroundings, we can be clumsy and unskilled. Sometimes we can adapt to new environments, and over time become more capable in them. But not always. Penguins have been spending half their time on land for millennia, and after all that time, they are still
more at home in the water.
There's a lesson here for those setting out on their own hero's journey. Your journey may lead you to unfamiliar new environments. By all means, try them out to see if they are a fit for you. You may be pleasantly surprised at how well you adapt. But you may also discover that there are some surroundings where you naturally do well, and others where you constantly struggle.
When I first decided I was going to change my profession to one that allowed me to do more good in the world, I was led to give many talks and workshops in far-away cities. On a typical trip, I would get on an airplane, spend one night at my destination, give my presentation, and fly home again, all within 48 hours. These whirlwind business trips were a challenge for me, but I struggled to adapt. "I should
be able to do this," I told myself. After several years of business travel where I got sick, came home exhausted, or suffered from stress and anxiety, I finally realized my mistake. Natural selection was at work, telling me I was not adapted for this environment!
I do infinitely better when I can either sleep in my own bed at night, or spend several days at a destination, becoming acclimated to it. So now when I give presentations to far-away audiences, I either deliver a teleclass or webinar from home, or combine my visit with a vacation where I spend at least three or four days in the area where I am speaking. What a difference! Instead of being an awkward, uncomfortable penguin on land, I become a graceful, at-ease penguin in the water.
Each of us is naturally well-suited to certain environments. But in other surroundings, while we can certainly survive, we will never be at our best. So if you should discover that at heart you are really a penguin, start swimming.
Labels: life purpose