“Behold the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out.” -James Bryant Conant
Behold the turtle, says James Bryant Conant. They are fascinating creatures, are they not? They are ancient, adaptable, and resilient. They appear to take things as they come and slowly saunter through life. They know how to protect themselves from harm, yet they are also unafraid to take risks in order to move forward.
Most of us, when we think of the turtle, do not think of courageous risk takers. Instead, we think of an animal that hides in its shell at the slightest hint of distress. And so they do. They tend to retreat to safety, bury their heads, and hide in their comfort zone when they are distraught. Yet, who are we to blame them? Most humans are no different.
So, instead of thinking of turtles as cowards, consider this for a moment: the only way that a turtle may travel through life, the only way that he will ever evolve, grow, and make progress, is if he sticks out his neck and takes a risk. Again, we humans are not all that different, are we?
Much like the turtle, the only way that we may move forward and journey through life is to stick out our necks once in a while. We must take a risk now and then in order to evolve and adapt, grow and make progress. The risks that we encounter may feel frightening and uncertain, or they feel refreshing and exciting. They may be a gamble, in hopes of a certain outcome, or they may be part of a necessary change. Additionally, as we take risks on our way to progress, we are likely to encounter several confusing yet important questions: Is this what I really want? Will people support me? Will I I be happy with my decision? What happens if I fail? As we consider these questions and reflect on our answers, we are then able to decide how serious we are about taking such risks. If it is worth venturing out of our comfort zone. And if we decide that it is indeed worth the risk, that we know what we really want, we must actually do something about it. We must actually stick out our necks and move forward with our decision.
And that is the scary part. Because living life in motion, taking action and initiative, is to also take risks. To move forward despite the uncertainty. To venture away from the familiar, and explore new territory. To take a small step or a flying leap without knowing where, or how, or if we are going to land. If we will grow our wings instead.
Yet, the only way that we will ever find our footing, grow our wings, and discover the fulfillment we have been longing for is to let go of our self-doubt. To free ourselves from the grips of our fear, embrace the possibilities in store, and allow ourselves to use our heads, to trust our guts, and to follow our hearts.
So, behold the turtle. Learn from him. Stick out your neck, take that risk, and create a life full of progress, growth, and fulfillment.