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Why be an ant when you can be a butterfly?

01 August 2013
Vineet Nayar

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a powerful book and a must read for anyone who wants to soar in life. It is a story of a seagull that wants to live to fly and has beautiful takeaways for the highs and lows of our life. One of the dramatic scenes in the book is when the flock of seagulls turns their back on him and declares him an outlaw. The anguish and the feeling of hurt are so real that you can feel it as if it is yours. He then redirects that hurt into a desire to fly even higher and drop down to earth at terminal velocity which no other Seagull has ever attempted before. He wants to show to the flock that life is not just about eating to live; there is much more to life and for him it is flying, faster and faster.

In life there may come a time when the flock turns their back on you. It may be because you got poor marks in school or came second in a race or let the expectation of your team down or missed your sales target or failed to make your idea succeed or you decided to quit and go your own way because you stopped believing in the ideas you were working for or you just believe in things that are difficult to explain-you feel it and thus do it even though others don’t get it. The common reaction of turning the back is part of a human mindset and a defensive reaction because through that action they say to themselves that we are in the right and the other one is the outlaw. Believing anything else will rob them of the false sense of comfort and misplaced confidence they have.

Moving with the crowd has never been the mark of a leader. A true leader or an idea is born when people turn their back on you. I know of a friend who dismantled his new bike in a pursuit of making it run faster. When he could not put it together he became an outlaw for the family and school friends only to become a great automobile engineer with a German car maker and today you drive a car with his stamp on it. I know of another successful executive who quit a successful organization to pursue his dream of a startup. The startup failed and the organization was quick to declare him an outlaw and made an example of him telling everyone why they should never leave that organization and why everyone who leaves fails. Something snapped in this person’s mind and he started writing some amazing books and today is known the world over for his ideas. There are thousands of examples out there when the actions of the flock turning its back creates a Jonathan Livingston Seagull in many leaders - a will to fly a flight no one has ever attempted before because there is nothing to lose and the burden of meeting the flock’s expectation is gone.

So what happens to the flock in this story? Well they stay together, happy doing the same old things.  Perhaps the safety of the known is the glue that keeps them together. However the success of one break away Jonathan wakes up the Jonathan in many others who start to give up the safety of the ground and take their own flights of  dreams.

Don’t be a rule maker, be a rule breaker, follow an idea and not a person, don’t be afraid to belong-standout, break free and do stuff others find irrational because they don’t know the difference between ignorance and irrationality but you know it.

In all our lives we face choices every day, some big and some small. Think of this when you make that choice today - you don’t owe anyone anything. As I wrote in my book, Employee First Customer Second, a few years ago - an ant is an ant and will remain an ant – maybe a fast ant, a rich ant a smart ant but still an ant and not a butterfly. You can never be a butterfly till your desire to fly is so intense that nothing can stop you from being that. The world will stop when you fly by and the flock that turned their back on you may stand and applaud. However remember to ignore them and their applause because you are doing it for yourself and not for them. Nurture your dreams- you have just one life; live it.