A couple of weeks ago my husband and I went up to spend the weekend at a lake where he spent his childhood summers. His father came up, we did a little fishing (my first fishing trip ever!) and then they took me to the river to see something special.
"The smell might be a little hard for you to take," they warned me, "but it's worth it."
As we walked to the edge of a small rushing creek, the fishy odour was indeed overwhelming. When I saw a row of dead salmon at the water's edge, I had to turn away at first. Steeling myself, I turned back and focused on the middle of the stream, where the water was alive with large fish.
"These salmon were born here," my husband explained, "and they swam out to sea and spent their lives there, thousands of miles away. Now, at the very end of their lives, they swim back against the current, back to where they were born, where they spawn. They've lost most of their muscle mass and are barely alive by the time they reach the end of their long journey; if they're lucky they manage to seed the next generation before they die."
The salmon looked old and frail indeed—thin, humpbacked and missing layers of their beautiful skin. We were standing near a small churning waterfall, and I couldn't bear to watch the obviously tired fish make it to the top and then get knocked back downstream again.
My husband laughed at my distress.
"Seriously, they've come thousands of miles, that setback is nothing in the big picture. These are the winners, dead or alive. These are the ones who've made it home against the odds, who've reached their ultimate lifelong goal. Don't feel sorry for them—be happy for them!"
I stood there in awe. He was right.
Watching those brave tireless fish, it struck me that there are so many parallels to our own life:
1) The road to success can be stinky
Failure stinks. So do mistakes. Sometimes we fail so spectacularly that the carcass of our flameout lies there at the side of our path, for everyone to see. What's the alternative? Missing out on your true homecoming, and dying out at sea having contributed nothing. Plug your nose and keep going.
2) Waterfalls and rapids may force you to backslide, but you'll be better off
I came across a sign on the creekside path:
"Riffles and waterfalls help by adding oxygen to the water. They also act as a nursery for insects which the fish feed on."
The waterfalls that set me back in life (such as my depression and a failed first marriage) truly oxygenated me, ultimately nourishing and developing my life in ways I'd never have imagined. If you're coming against a life current that feels like it's dragging you farther and farther back, be alert to the strength it's building in you and all the things it's teaching you. You will make it through, and one day will make a joyous splash as you reach the other side.
3) Always keep the big picture in mind
This year may feel like a sucky one to you. Maybe you're nowhere near where you thought you'd be by now. Step back though, and look at your whole life. What things have you accomplished that make you proud? What odds have you triumphed over? In what way are you on the road to triumph now? You will do it again!
4) Rest and even hide in your obstacles
Another sign on the path taught me this:
"Logs, rocks and boulders add complexity to the system, providing hiding and resting spots for fish."
How might your obstacles actually be places to rest or hide? Might they even restore you in some way? (or redirect you in a way you might have otherwise missed?)
I'm reminded of an unexpected obstacle I faced that occupied my resources and made it hard to get anything but the basics done in my business. It was frustrating at first, but then I accepted it for what it was and relaxed into it instead of fighting it. I was forced to make rest, prayer, exercise, good food, and relaxation a priority in order to make it through. I got to step out of rat-racing and ambition for a while and just focused on good self-care. Might you rest or hide in your obstacles in the same constructive way?
5) If you've done your best to do what calls you, you can die happy
Since I was a child I wanted to write a book. Now that I've done it once, I'm not sure I'll be able to find the effort and determination to do it again—it was so much more work than I ever dreamed. But I can die happy, knowing that I did it. I still don't really know why writing a book was such a big deal to me, but it was, and I did it. What do you need to do to die in peace? There may be many things, but see if you can identify one thing, or a few key things, and get going on them.
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson
Dr. Susan Biali, M.D. is a medical doctor, health and happiness expert, life and health coach, professional speaker, flamenco dancer, and the author of Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You, dedicated to helping people worldwide get healthy, find happiness and enjoy more meaningful lives that they love. Dr. Biali is available for keynote presentations, workshops/retreats, media commentary, and private life and health coaching—contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.susanbiali.com for more details.
Copyright Dr. Susan Biali, M.D. 2013