Sometimes major life lessons come from the most unlikely of sources. As strange as it may sound, I learned one of my biggest lessons about the importance of knowing what I want out of life and the best way to get it, from a green sea turtle.
I was snorkeling off the coast of Hawaii. The day had already been spectacular, in that I had seen a purple spotted eel and an octopus, both of which were new for me. There were also thousands and thousands of fish, representing every color you can imagine from the most striking of neon blue to the deepest reds. I was about 100 feet away from the beach, and diving down among some large rock structures, when I turned to my right, and saw a large green sea turtle swimming next to me. This was the first time I had ever seen one in the wild, so I was ecstatic. I rose to the surface, cleared my snorkel, and floated on top of the water, so I could watch him.
He was right underneath me when I looked down, and he was swimming away from the shore. I decided I would stay on the top and watch him for a while. To my surprise, although he appeared to be moving pretty slowly, sometimes paddling his flippers, and other times just floating in the water, I soon found that I couldn’t keep up with him. I was wearing fins, which gave me propulsion power through the water, and didn’t have on a vest or anything that would slow me down, and yet he kept moving farther from me even though I was trying to keep up.
After about ten minutes, he lost me. Tired, disappointed, and a little embarrassed that I couldn’t keep up with a turtle, I turned back toward the beach and snorkeled to shore.
The next day I returned to the same spot, with the hope of seeing more turtles. Sure enough, about thirty minutes after walking into the water, I turned to look at a school of tiny black and yellow fish, and there was another green sea turtle. I watched him for a while as he paddled around the coral, and then I tried to stay with him as he swam out from shore. Once again, I was surprised to find I couldn’t keep up.
When I realized he was pulling ahead of me, I stopped paddling, floated on the top, and watched him. It was at that moment, when I learned the major life lesson.
I realized that the turtle linked its movements to the movements of the water. When a wave was going toward the shore, and in the face of the turtle, he would float, and paddle just enough to hold his position. When the pull of the wave was back out to the ocean, he would paddle faster, so that he was using the movement of the water to his advantage. The turtle never fought the waves, but instead used them.
The reason I had not been able to keep up with him, was because I was paddling all the time, no matter which way the water was going. At first this was fine, and I was able to stay with him. I even had to slow my paddling sometimes. But the more I battled against the incoming waves, the more tired I became. Pretty soon, I didn’t have enough energy to take advantage of the waves that were going out.
The turtle didn’t have this problem though. While I became more fatigued and less effective with each wave that came in and want out, he kept optimizing his movements with the movements of the water, which is why he had plenty of energy and was able to swim faster than me.
We face a similar struggle in our everyday lives, only the incoming and outgoing waves aren’t composed of water. The incoming waves are made up of all the people, activities, and things that are trying to get our attention, energy, and time, but that don’t support what we want out of life. The outgoing waves are the people, activities, and things that can help us fulfill what we want out of life.
In the ocean, I wasted my energy by paddling against the incoming waves, and then didn’t have strength to achieve what I was trying to do which was stay near the turtle. If we’re not careful, we can make the same mistake in life. We can waste so much time and energy on things other people want us to do, or just on random things, if we haven’t figured out what we want to do, that we don’t have the time or energy to experience or achieve what we want out of life.
There are so many people trying to get us to spend our time and energy on them through E-mails, faxes, phone calls, mail, meeting invitations, and advertisements. It is an almost non-stop onslaught every single day. Think of just the mail alone. If we were to participate in every activity, sale, and service offering we get notified about, it would take up every minute of the day. And that is just the mail. Add on people who want to capture our attention for television time, places to eat, travel destinations and a multitude of other offerings and it can be overwhelming.
Because most of the things people want us to do are not lengthy in duration, it may not seem like much of a problem. When you put some numbers to it though, it starts to really add up. For example, spending 40 minutes per day on “incoming wave” items from the time we are 22 until the time we are 72, fills up over two of our fifty years of life. Two years entirely devoted to junk mail, spam e-mail, pointless meetings, telemarketers, whatever. That can be a sobering thought, especially when you start thinking about exactly how much time we really spend each day on incoming wave items.
So the next time you answer the phone, open your mailbox, or click on something in your inbox, ask yourself, “Is this an incoming wave item, or an outgoing wave item?” Does it take up my time, or help me achieve what I want out of life?
Remember, the more time and energy we waste on the incoming waves, the less time and energy we have for the outgoing. If you keep that thought in mind you’ll find you become much more selective about how much “paddling” you do, and for what reason.” And you’ll owe it all to a green sea turtle.