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Life Lessons From an Albatross

The albatross gets a bad rap. The oft-used reference to the bird is a metaphor for carrying a heavy burden, "This (fill in the blank) is an albatross around my neck."

Before the ancient poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge created this legend in his 1798 poem, the albatross was considered good luck by sailors when it followed their ship. However, in the poem which was inspired by a series of true stories, a mariner shoots the albatross and as punishment his companions make him wear the dead bird around his neck until his death.  

But, after watching the Discovery Channel's series "Frozen Planet" I'm thinking differently about the albatross.  

You'd think it would be a breeze to be able to fly with an eleven-foot wingspan. But, a young albatross has an incredibly difficult time getting off the ground. In fact, it takes literally weeks for him to figure out how to take flight. WEEKS. He tries everything, running leaps followed be quick flapping of his gigantic wings, jumping off rocks and hills only to fall clumsily back to the ground. Lots of trial and error ensues. Lots of persistence and single-minded focus. And, then one day when all of its painstaking preparation meets the opportunity of the right gust of wind, the albatross soars beautifully and effortlessly across the sea. And, here's the kicker: once he's in his zone doing what he was meant to do he won't set foot on land again for five years. Can you imagine?

Follow your instincts

So, this magnificent creature that is literally built to fly like no other, had to figure it out. With instinct and an innate knowing as his guides, he did it.  

It got me thinking about how as magnificent human beings we already have all of the equipment under the hood necessary to do whatever we set our minds to do. But, as multi-faceted freethinking spirits it's so easy to let ego and a multitude of factors get in our way from meeting our true destinies. Many times we focus on what we're told we should be doing rather than what we're meant to do, our true heart's desire.

The albatross has a big mission in mind. If he all of sudden decided he would rather be a whale or a polar bear (after all they eat fish too) then just think of the time and energy he would waste trying to fit into a mold where his big floppy wings would be seen as a flaw rather than the asset that they are. Or, if he tried to be another bird because he saw how much easier it was for them to fly. I can just imagine a hummingbird watching the albatross stumble to take flight and saying, "what's the big deal, dude?" as it buzzes in an annoying flight pattern above the big bird's head.  

But no, the albatross has a big mission and he knows he has all the equipment to get him there.

So, to my way of thinking the albatross has a few lessons he can teach us brilliant and often wayward humans:

  • Know your strengths - The albatross doesn't focus on his weaknesses, but rather his strengths so that the weaknesses are but a hiccup along the way.
  • Understand your equipment - Know what your capabilities are and if you need to educate yourself to improve them, then do so instead of being hung up on what you don't know.
  • Keep your eye on the target - Take the time to determine your life mission and then gear everything you do toward fulfilling that mission.  

And, first and last, always - 

  • Follow your Instincts - Listen to the signals your heart and body give you as you're on your journey. Your gut is usually right, even when your head tries to steer you. Follow your gut.

So, next time perhaps, rather than thinking of the albatross as a heavy burden holding you back, think of it as a guide to get you where you're supposed to be.