THE BLOG

What a Bird Taught Me About Success (seriously)

05/27/2015 03:41 pm ET | Updated May 27, 2016

heron
Photo credit: Rodney Campbell / Creative Commons

It was a sunny Saturday. I should have felt relaxed and happy but my mind was whirring with details. I was stressed about all of the things I didn't get done that week.

I was trying to implement a daily routine that would help me move mountains, but I knew it wouldn't be fun, easy or even sustainable. I wanted to clean the house top to bottom every single day. I wanted to start blogging consistently. I wanted to promote the book I'd just published.

I was basically freaking myself out, and I knew it. Too much to do, too little time. I know better than to do this to myself, yet here I was. On a sunny Saturday. Feeling overwhelmed and hopeless.

So instead of sitting down and trying to plow through an insurmountable mess of work, I went for a nice walk. Then I got some vigorous exercise at the gym. Before I set out to do that, I said a little prayer to... whoever it is that hangs out with me and places omens at my feet. Angels? God? The Universe?

I explained that I'm confused, that I have too many competing priorities, and that I didn't know how or where to begin. I trusted that while I was out enjoying the sunshine that an answer would come. And on my walk back home, I wasn't disappointed.

As I walked down the sidewalk, I glanced at a pond. Not twenty feet away I saw a heron in the shallows. (If you don't know what a heron is, it's a big ass bird, pictured above.)

I began to formulate the message I assumed I would receive from the Universe. I had read about the Zen symbolism bestowed upon herons, and so I expected that I would stand and watch the heron, and that I would be so amazed at how motionless the big bird was, and that the message would be to sit still and be quiet and chill out and meditate.

But that's not at all what happened.

I did stand there and watch the bird, and I was amazed at how determined and ceaseless a creature it was. It walked slowly but steadily through the shallow water, flattening plants with its big feet as it stepped. Then it struck and caught a fish.

It swallowed the live fish whole, and I could see the outline of the fish flopping and struggling as it slid down the inside of the heron's neck. I wondered what it felt like to have a fish flipping around in your stomach. I assumed that was the end of the hunt and that the heron would then fly off somewhere.

I was wrong again.

The heron kept walking and then it struck again. The catch was slightly smaller this time, But still impressive at a 2 for 2 score. I figured the bird must be done eating by now.

WRONG. (Man, I suck at this game.)

This time the heron struck by taking a short aggressive flight to lunge at its target, but whatever it was, a small frog perhaps, jumped clear of its beak. Unlike a human, the bird didn't stop to consider its failure. The bird kept going.

Then some smaller birds swooped in to heckle the heron, or at least that's what it looked like. One small bird perched close to the heron, seemingly shouting (chirping) obnoxiously at the heron's head. The big bird completely ignored the little bird, and kept up the steady walking and striking pattern as I watched. Again, unlike a human, the heron didn't give a crap that someone else didn't approve of its activities. It didn't stop to defend or explain himself or to tell the little bird where to go. The heron just kept going.

The message I received is this:

  1. Be steady. It's OK to go slow, but don't stop. The most important thing is to be consistent.
  2. Stay in action. Even after a big win, don't stop. Even after a failure, don't stop.
  3. Do what's important to you, and ignore the naysayers. Don't stop.
It's OK to work hard -- but I don't need to feel overwhelmed and confused. My priority for the day became clear. (Yup, it was writing this blog post.)

The message around my priorities was this: All the other stuff will get done. It's really easy to push blogging or writing books to the back burner. I love writing, and that's why it's easy for me to back burner writing, because it feels so gorgeous and indulgent and fun.

But that's exactly why writing has to be a priority for me.

What work (or play) feels gorgeous and indulgent and fun to you? How can you make time to do it consistently?

The heron told me this: We only get one life to live. Prioritize accordingly, and don't stop.

Katie Morton is the author of Secrets of People With Extraordinary Willpower.