Go to the ant, O sluggard,
Observe her ways and be wise,
Which, having no chief,
Officer or ruler,
Prepares her food in the summer
And gathers her provision in the harvest.
I was at an event last night listening to a speaker talk about his personal journey of overcoming his addiction issues. I was sitting in the front row when I noticed a tiny ant on the hardwood floor in front of me. He was carrying a piece of something across the floor that was about twice the size he was.
I remembered reading – in my younger days – about how ants can carry much more than they weigh. A Google search reveals that ants can carry 10 to 50 times their body weight! That’s pretty impressive, when I consider the world record Clean-and-Jerk for a human is just over 2x bodyweight: 246 kg on a 104 kg frame.
And the person performing the Clean-and-Jerk doesn’t do any actual carrying, either.
So I was watching this tiny little ant struggle to move this chunk of whatever-it-was across the floor. He clearly had a destination in mind. I was impressed by his tenacity. He would periodically run in to roadblocks such as tiny bumps and dips in the floor, but he never stopped moving.
Sometimes he’d push, sometimes he’d pull, and sometimes he’d veer off to the side to go around something. But he never stopped moving.
Judging from the direction he was going in, he seemed to be trying to reach the wall, which was about 5 metres away. I was impressed with his determination because he JUST…WOULDN’T…STOP.
Then something strange happened. He started moving sideways. Then he turned around in circles for about a minute. Then he started coming back towards me. What was this about?
“What’s happening here?” I asked myself. “Did he get scared? Confused? Why is he coming back?” To that point I was focused on how determined he was to get to the wall, which I had assumed was his destination. Then I started to get a bit upset: upset at the thought that maybe he had lost his way, or worse was chickening out maybe because he was too tired. I had been cheering him on, and now here it seemed he was giving up.
How many times have I, in the past, gone back to an old relationship, job, something, just because it was comfortable? I had left in the first place because I knew that staying would be harmful to me. How many time had I started out on a journey of change, only to become disillusioned or frightened, and end up quitting? Too many times, if truth be told, and all-too-often those times cost me dearly.
So what was happening here with this little ant, I wondered? Was he scared? Disillusioned? Tired? Why was he coming back?
I had last night to reflect on that little ant. I don’t know where he ended up. He may have even been squished underfoot by one of the talk attendees when it was over. I hoped not. I had started to really identify with that little guy.
So here’s what I learned from reflecting on his journey:
1. How you get to your destination is not as important as just staying on the path. Sometimes the ant had to push, sometimes pull, sometimes bypass dips, or sometimes surmount rises in the road. The point isn’t the obstacles we encounter as much as it is continuing despite them.
2. Sometimes we arrive at points in our journey when we get scared, confused or both. We wonder why we started in the first place. We may not see the progress we’re making. We may stop and turn in circles for a while, not knowing which way to go. We may even go backwards, giving in to the fear of the unknown, thinking that perhaps, yes, things as they were sucked, but at least we knew what to expect. There was a certain level of comfort with it all, and so we feel the tug to return to what’s familiar.
3. I shouldn’t presume to know what another person needs to do to get to where they need to be. I was upset when the ant turned around and started to return to where he had come from. But what do I know about what he was really trying to accomplish? Maybe he forgot something. Maybe he decided that there was another piece of something else that would better suit his purposes, so he was coming back to exchange what he had for that? It wasn’t my business to interfere in his journey by assuming I know where he should be going and how he should get there. Neither can I afford to interfere in someone else’s journey.
You may be facing the prospect of making a change in your life. You know you have to, because staying where you are is intolerable. The pain of staying the same exceeds the pain of change, so you’re ready. But you know that the change itself will hurt. Remember: THIS TOO SHALL PASS. Pain is temporary, but it’s usually worth it in the end. On this, you need to trust your gut and not your brain.
Remember the tenacity of the ant. Remember how, no matter what, he just kept going. The one thing I can say for him is he didn’t stop. He never stayed still. He was a great example to me.
Here’s to you taking care of you, and keeping on no matter what!