February is normally a very special month to me, and before you start thinking its because of Valentine’s day, please be informed that this is not one of the reasons why the month is special. February is special to me because besides being the only month with inconsistent days, it also happens to be the month that I was born in. It also is the month my first born son, my only sister and my Mom were born in.
This year’s February is particularly special to me because I believe like the children of Israel, this is the year I cross over to my promised land. The 40 years I have been circling in the wilderness came to an end on the 3rd of February 2016 and going forward I know and believe things will be different. 41 is definitely my year of renewal. Oh and in-case you didn’t send your gift my way, you still have time to send it my way…
So as I was looking back at my life and especially the year that has just passed, I realized that my 40th year was by far the most challenging year of my life. Then I was reminded about a bird that goes through a lot of challenges when it gets to its 40th year too. This is a bird known to have a life-span of up to 70 years, but it is the 40th year that determines whether it will live longer or die.
In order for you to understand what I mean, let me share with you a few facts about Eagles, the bird I am referring to above.
First and foremost, the eagle is a bird of prey meaning it ‘hunts” in order to eat. Unfortunately, by the age of 40 years, its long and flexible talons can no longer grab prey. Similarly, its long and sharp beak becomes bent, its wings become heavy and stick to its chest, making it very difficult for the bird to fly. At this point, the Eagle has to do some soul searching and make a very difficult/life changing decision; either to keep those weak talons, bent beak and heavy wings, or to go through a painful process of renewing itself in order to live up to 70 years. If it opts for the painful process, then it has to go to the mountains for a period of 150 days where the renewing process begins.
So, the Eagle flies to the mountain top where it knocks its beak against a rock or stone until it plucks it out. Can you imagine the pain? That’s not all, after plucking it out the Eagle will wait for a new beak to grow while it is still up there on the mountain top. Not sure what it eats while it’s up there, or even whether it eats at all since it has no beak to pick up prey with. But it is a sacrifice the bird has to make in order to create a new life for itself.
Once the beak grows, the bird then plucks out its talons and stays in that vulnerable state until the talons grow back, where it then proceeds to pluck out its old feathers and waits for them to grow back. After 5 months of pure pain and sacrifice, the big guy takes his famous flight of rebirth and is able to live for another 30 years, unless he dies accidently before then.
Now, I do not know whether this theory is a reality or a fictional ideology, but what I do know is that indeed it does have a lot of lessons we can derive from it. For instance, for us to live long (be it physical, professional, business life), we must be ready to undergo constant change. We need to constantly pluck off the heavy feathers, the weak beak and talons from our lives in order to create room for sharper and better tools. For instance, what burdens, or habits or traditions or memories have you acquired along the way that might be limitting your potential? What friends, or circles are you engaged in that might be dragging you behind instead of catapulting you to higher heights? Yes, like the eagle, each one of us needs some “Me-Time” where you just go for a soul-searching mission to identify the areas in your life that you need to change. Change is needed in order for us to survive and stay relevant, especially in this highly dynamic and competitive world we are living in today.
Besides the renewing part, there are other major attributes an eagle has that are quite phenomenal. For instance, whereas all other birds (and animals too!) cringe and run away in fear the moment they see a storm coming, the eagle reacts in a completely different manner. The moment the Eagles sees a storm coming, it starts behaving like it ate excess sugar i.e. the bird becomes highly hyper. You know why? Because the eagle uses the current generated by the storm to soar to greater heights. It takes advantage of the very storm that causes other birds and animals to take cover to soar above.
Many of us look at the storms of life as a reason to feel down-trodden and wasted. We look at those storms as setbacks instead of looking at them as opportunities to explore our inner strength and potential. This is what separates the boys from the men, the girls from the women. Only a strong person has the courage to face a storm head-on and not run or hide when they see it coming. To quote Napoleon Bonaparte, “Courage isn’t having the strength to go on; it is going on even when you do not have the strength.” I believe it is that leap of faith, that believing in yourself that opens you up to explore the potential you never even realized was inside of you. So the next time a storm hits your life, spread your wings like the Eagle does and let the storm take you to that level you never even knew existed within you.
Another thing is that an Eagle will never surrender to the size or strength of its prey or enemy. Instead, it studies its opponent and applies the relevant tactics to cause it to surrender. The one lesson we can learn from this bird with regards to surrendering, is that it does not matter what kind of opponent you are facing. If you take time to study them, you will find a way of defeating them by applying the right weapon/tool. The key thing is not to let them intimidate you by their size, or by who they know, or by where they are from, or by their background, etc. Remember, it is not the size of the dog that matters; it is the size of the fight in the dog that makes the difference.
Then there is the part about an Eagle’s vision. Did you know that an eagle is capable of seeing an object that is 5Km below? What the bird does is that once it sees its prey, it does not shift its eyes at all until it captures it. It doesn’t matter whether on its way to capture its prey it meets a pig flying or an elephant dancing in the air. It focuses until it captures its prey. If only most of us would adopt a similar character, where we focus and not let go of our goal until we have what we want! This would save us a lot of time and resources. The problem with us is that we start identifying the many obstacles on the way and we lose sight of our goal. We need to be visionaries; focused visionaries like the Eagle is. I guess the Eagle must have read the quote by Henry Ford that says, “Obstacles are the things you see when you take your yes off your goal”. Focus until you achieve your goal.
Who do you trust? I had a boss who used to tell us this;"it is good to trust but it best to doubt”. Of course that wasn’t always taken very positively but as I have grown older, I have seen the sense of that advice. Clearly, the Eagle must have been eavesdropping as this guy was telling us this because the Eagle does the same too. Before she trusts, she tests. How? The female eagle puts the male eagle through vigorous testing before allowing the male to mate with her. She tests his commitment and ability because she knows bringing eaglets into this world is not a joke. I wish girls would apply this principal…… anyway, I digress.
In short, we should be very careful as we get into partnerships or agreements with others. We need to test their level of commitment before we shake hands over an agreement. If the Eagle does, why can’t we?
There are a lot of lessons we can learn from the Eagle including the fact that it eats fresh food, the fact that it is pro-training, they take time to re-energize, etc. If I expounded on them all, this article would be too long to read, and so for now, I’ll leave it at that.
My question to you today is, how do you compare to this peculiar bird? Identify the areas you can borrow a leaf from the Eagle and adopt the Eagle’s lifestyle. You will never be the same again.
Remember, an Eagle knows that it was not born to fit in. It knows it was born to stand out and it lives to that expectation. How about you, are you living up to what is expected of you?
PS: Article originally published in Tanzania's Guardian on Sunday on the 7th February, 2016, under my weekly column "Thoughts in Words".