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An Important Life Lesson from Penguins in Antarctica

… This content has been created as part of my involvement in Microsoft’s #WorkWonders Program …

Sometimes you have to get away from your everyday life to experience a special moment of clarity. To be able to properly ponder something that you’ve kind of always known but hadn’t really thought about for years.

Standing in the snow in Antarctica was about as far away from everyday life as I could get, and so perhaps it’s little wonder that it was here I found myself absorbing a life lesson from penguins.

You see while some penguins were still nipping in and out of the water, waddling around and going about their busy penguin lives, others were in a different state. One that required them to do as little as possible.

These penguins were in the middle of what’s known as a catastrophic moult. It sounds dramatic because it is for these guys. They don’t just lose a feather here and there and replace it, they lose them all, and until their new ones grow in they can’t go in the water as they are no longer waterproof.

Before we went ashore to visit the penguin colonies, our resident One Oceans Expedition expert Steve Bailey explained that while they were moulting the penguins had to rely on the fat stores that they’d built up to see them through.

This was one of the reasons it was so important to observe the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) rules and not approach the penguins because if they were frightened and wanted to move away they’d be wasting valuable resources. And if that happened too much it could be life threatening.

These guys and gals couldn’t just top up their energy any old way. They had to wait. Patiently. Until they knew they could fish again.

Now I’ll admit I’m about to get all anthropomorphic here, but as I watched their penguin faces they seemed so calm, so wise even about the way life works. About the fact that if we’re going to let go of our old protective coats and let our new ones come through we have to be exposed and vulnerable for a little while.

As humans it’s so hard to let our guards down, to let go of what we know will protect us and step into that unknown; to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and to give ourselves the chance to grow new skins.

It’s hard to admit that in life, and in business, sometimes we have to wait for the timing to be right before we can catch that fish. And that we should not only accept but savour the in between times.

And it can be hard to respect our own energy, and realise that there are times when we simply have to rest and recuperate, rather than pushing ourselves to the breaking point when our body and mind forces us to shut down.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s felt frustrated with myself when I haven’t achieved everything I wanted to in record time. Or the only one who has felt guilty when I have a long To Do list waiting, and yet all I want to do is curl up with a great book or put on a top TV series and allow myself to enjoy ‘one more episode’ all day.

As I watched these penguins with their exploding feathers patiently waiting for the day when they could swim again I realised that I needed to allow myself time to just, dare I say, chill out like a penguin.

Chinstrap penguins moulting in Antarctica

Of course, not being a penguin but a woman with dreams and ambitions I find it easier to chill out when I can stop things going around and around in my head and capture them in some kind of organised format.

Along with my To Do lists since I’ve returned from Antarctica I’ve found myself creating more Excel spreadsheets so I can just relax on my Me Days.

I’ve finally created a proper blogging schedule with pretty coloured codes that I can check and update from my desktop, Surface Pro3, iPad and iPhone thanks to it all syncing through OneDrive. I’ve even put a social media plan together so I can stop trying to remember what I’ve already done and what needs to be done.

As I thought more about the way planning, timing and energy affects our lives I found myself turning to a rather inspirational friend of mine, Sean Hall.

Sean is an awarded innovator, strategist and marketer, and when I asked him for his thoughts on the lessons we can learn from penguins he was good enough to share some insights from his upcoming book, “You Don’t Know What You’re Capable Of.”

Over to Sean…

“We often talk about preparation for big events being necessary. For a big game, for an exam, or in the case of penguins, for an ocean migration and it’s common to make lists and spreadsheets for work to first of all focus us on critical actions and keep us on track.

“But how often do we do it for ourselves, for the personal stuff? It doesn’t have to be something big and out there but just simple goals which are measurable and make a big impact.

“Just like the penguins preparing for their migration, the first place you should start before they take on any big goal is to make sure you are well fuelled. Change takes energy, so it’s worth investing the time to make sure your energy supplies are plentiful and available.

“The most basic approach I use when coaching is a simple food diary. You can start this immediately after you finish this article. After all, if there is one thing we are 100% in control of, it is what we put in our mouths.

“Here’s the difference though. Instead of writing down what you ate and drank, it is much more powerful if you make it visual. So take a picture (you know you were going to Instagram it anyway) and pop it into one of the cells of your Excel spreadsheet noting the time.

“If you have a personal trainer they’ll love you for this. Just save it as a PDF and send it to them each week.

“When you see a week’s worth of eating and drinking it will allow you to then start to assess against your goals. Did you stay on track in terms of quality, quantity and frequency of consumption? Once you’ve formed the habit of feeding your body adequately you’ll be ready to tackle any goal or obstacle that comes your way.”

Thank you, Sean! Now this is probably the point where I should admit that I’ve been very old school with my spreadsheets and have been sticking with words and numbers. But I love the idea of a visual one that shows all your meals, snacks and liquid intake and so am sharing what Sean’s template looks like.

Visual Food Diary

The first photo that can go in my spreadsheet is one of the cup of tea I’m about to make as I take a few minutes to just remember those penguins.

I’m even going to allow myself a few more minutes to watch the video of my time in Antarctica and to be transported to a beautiful place far, far away. Then I have some work to do, but for now it’s chill like a penguin time.

This content has been created as part of my involvement in Microsoft’s #WorkWonders Program.

Amanda visited the penguins in Antarctica as a guest of One Oceans Expeditions on the Russian icebreaker Akademik Ioffe. You can read about her Antarctic Circle Voyage here.

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  1. What a beautiful piece! Loving your work as always . . . as you morph from crazy cat lady to chilled penguin princess effortlessly . . .

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