A lesson from the humble pelican: find your unique mission, then soar!

“A funny old bird is a pelican. His beak can hold more than his belican…” — Dixon Lanier Merritt

I guess I’ve always had a mild obsession with pelicans. Living a few miles from the ocean and wetlands most of my adult life, I’ve had the chance to see pelicans in all shapes and sizes — brown and gray and even the occasional white ones.

Once I spot them, I can’t take my eyes off them. They soar the updrafts like modern-day pterodactyls, giant wings motionless and outstretched, heads tucked in, long necks disappearing completely. Or they adopt the same glide posture to skim blazingly fast along the water, just inches from the surface, hitch-hiking on an ocean breeze.

Every once in a while they explode out of their not-a-single-muscle-moving form to morph into a dive-bombing fishing machine. I watch in awe as they knife into the water and rocket back to the surface with a live fish flopping around inside that tough, but paper-thin, pouch beneath their beak.

Sleek diving machine… ?

Fish captured (mission accomplished!), they shake the water from their wings, then fold themselves into a clumsy lump of feathers and bob goofily on the waves as their big web feet paddle towards shore.

On land, they waddle-walk like giant ducks with oversized, awkward beak-heads and eventually collapse in the sun, a mass of sleeping feathers.

… or awkward waddler?

So what are these creatures? Are they sleek, dive-bombing fishing machines? Or are they ungainly waddling clowns? It all depends on the context in which you observe them.

They are at their streamlined best when pursuing their noblest mission: stunt flying and fishing. The rest of the time, they are downright clunky, simply hanging out and waiting for the next mission. I can’t think of another living thing that so completely transforms itself based on its mission.  Except maybe us humans.

So What’s Your Mission?

“Everything – a horse, a vine – is created for some duty… For what task, then, were you yourself created? A man’s true delight is to do the things he was made for.”
– Marcus Aurelius, in The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

Let’s face it.  There are things that you are good at — that only you can do and that you do better than anyone else. And when you’re doing these things, you can feel your Source or God or whatever creative muse that powers you as it flows through you and brings energy to your work. In short, when you’re doing such things, you know you’re “in the zone.”

The brilliant psychologist Abraham Maslow, who created the term “self-actualization,” said: “Musicians must make music, artists must paint, poets must write if they are to be ultimately at peace with themselves. What human beings can be, they must be. They must be true to their own nature. This need we may call self-actualization.” (From Maslow’s textbook Motivation and Personality.) 

So self-actualization — the act of using your unique gifts to become actually what you are inherently created to be — is a primal need for all of us. And it must be your highest goal if you are to “be ultimately at peace…”

So what’s your unique mission and gift? What excites you… gets you in your zone… makes you lose track of time when your pursue it?  As Deepak Chopra says in his Seven Spiritual Laws of Success: “Everyone has a purpose in life… a unique gift or special talent to give to others. And when we blend this unique talent with service to others, we experience the ecstasy and exultation of our own spirit, which is the ultimate goal of goals.”

If you’re ever to be at peace with yourself or to find the joy you were created to experience, you must find this purpose.  And, once discovered, you need to share it with the world!

The lesson from the humble pelican? You can’t spend all day waddling around ignoring and wasting your unique talents. You have to listen to your heart, find your mission and soar!

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