What’s your dream?

Today Laura Dekker, a 16-year-old Dutch girl, arrived in the harbor of the Caribbean island of St. Maarten. Unremarkable perhaps, except for the fact that she just finished sailing around the world, the youngest recorded person to do so–alone.

This is a venture that cost legendary explorer Magellan his life. Dekker battled the Dutch authorities who forbade her journey, she faced down her own self-doubt aboard her 38′ “Guppy,”  and en route she encountered all manner of harrowing maritime tribulations.

But she circumnavigated the globe. Why? In her words, “It’s a dream, and I wanted to do it.” As we ponder the big questions in life it’s easy to forget that sometimes there’s just a simple answer.

The Man in the Arena

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

–Theodore Roosevelt from the speech, “Citizenship In A Republic”, delivered in Paris on April 23, 1910

8 Things You Can Learn From a Spider

Before you whack it with a sneaker, take a moment to consider what the spider might teach you.

To succeed we’re often told to emulate the lowly ant. “Go to the ant thou sluggard, consider her ways and be wise,” the Bible tells us. The ant’s industriousness is also heralded in the classic Aesop’s fable where the lazy grasshopper lays around all summer while the ant is busy scurrying about preparing for winter. Even that anthropomorphic cartoon ant is always getting one over on the Aardvark.

The thing is, the ant doesn’t work alone, she’s part of a colony (they’re all “shes” except for the drones), often numbering in the millions. Some believe the colony itself to be one giant organism with each ant a mere cog in the wheel. As a result each individual ant is expendable and readily replaced. Kind of like the world of business of late.  If an ant found herself downsized where would she go? While ants have impressive specialized skills, without the colony the individual ant is doomed. Sadly, that appears to be the grim prospect awaiting many in the workforce today.

I say, if you are going to look for inspiration among the tiny critters in the corners of your house,  look to the spider. I saw one the other day, a large, black hairy jumping spider.  She was walking along what to her must have been the strange alien landscape of my glass patio table. I crouched down to take a closer look and as I did she sensed me, stopped, and pivoted quickly on 8 legs to regard me with an equal number of blue-green eyes. This little creature was the product of 300 million years of evolution. Her kind was doing their thing before the dinosaurs roamed the earth. In the scheme of things, my kind is a latecomer to the gig of life.

Amazing spider, what can we learn from your success?

1. Patience. A spider is nothing if not patient. Check out an orb-weaver in your garden, or a common house spider in a dusty corner. After spinning a web they sit and bide their time. Spiders haven’t been around for hundreds of millions of years by complaining, or blaming others for their problems. They’ve got a job to do and they do it.

2. Hunger. Spiders are usually always hungry.  It drives them to roam, or to sit motionless for hours in their quest for prey. The spider knows if you’re not hungry for something you will quickly be eaten by someone else who is.

3. A neat bag of tricks. Spiders are famous for their ability to spin webs. Some spiders, such as the orb weaver, spin elaborate webs, while the handiwork of other species can be more crude.  The jumping spider doesn’t spin webs at all except to cover its eggs but it can also release a strand when it jumps to slow it’s descent, like a parachute. The jumping spider can also jump 25 times it’s own length. No doubt you’ve got some specialized skills in your own bag of tricks. When was the last time you used them?

4. They know what’s on their to-do list. The spider doesn’t while away the day pondering it’s purpose, or wondering about its place in the cosmos, or the futility of its existence. The spider starts each day with a single-minded purpose: Overpower something, and eat it.

5. The spider is always “in the now.” Arachnids would make Eckhart Tolle proud as they are always present in their current circumstances.  They don’t waste time on the past, or live in a non-existent future. They’re not on Facebook. Oblivious to their brief 1-2 year lifespan, the spider is always in the moment.

6. They walk a lonely road. Unlike ants, the spider doesn’t have a colony to depend on. From the moment it hatches most  spiders are on their own. They have to make their own breaks and there’s no one to bail them out. Sound familiar?

7. No intimidation. The spider doesn’t sit around thinking, “There must be other spiders better than me or more talented. Look at that web, I can’t do that.” NO. The spider brings it. It’s always game on for the spider. A million other spiders competing per each acre of grass? Who cares. Subduing prey 5 times larger than themselves? Bring it on.

8. They don’t pity themselves. The odds are stacked against the spider from the start. Most are eaten long before they reach maturity. There are predators everywhere, birds, wasps, other spiders, sometimes a size 12 Converse. The English novelist D.H. Lawrence once wrote: “I have never seen a wild thing feel sorry for itself. A little bird will fall dead, frozen from a bough, without ever having felt sorry for itself.”  So it is for the spider. They live out their lives in a “no whining zone.”

I grabbed a small twig and held it in front of my spider. As if to demonstrate her impressive leaping skills she seemingly materialized on the twig.  I carefully carried her over and released her in some leaves by a fence.  The spider paused for a moment to regard me again, then scurried off  to tackle her “to-do” list. It was a reminder to me to scurry off and tackle mine.

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