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July 17, 2023

Lessons on Hope: What I Learned from a Sea Turtle

Nightly, on coasts sprawling globally, sea turtle conservationists take to remote beaches during the midnight hours in search of nesting sea turtles.

Endangered, and crazy vulnerable while nesting, sea turtles depart from the dark, slapping sea. Slowly and effortfully, they paddle their heavy flippers one laborious stroke at a time up damp and drying sand in search of a secure-feeling place to dig their nests and lay their eggs.

This is risky business.

Naturally, there are driftwood logs on the beach blocking their path; rocks that are almost impossible for non-land-living creatures to scramble over; hungry, merciless crabs and murderous sea birds on the hunt.

Unnaturally, there are fishing nets, human trash, illegal poaching, and sand so hot it cooks the eggs while they sleep.

There is a lot that can go wrong for sea turtles.

While on a midnight shift, my fellow conservationists and I (when I was more of a professional and full-time sea turtle person), would walk the remote shorelines in the dark and the quiet, searching for the tell-tale tracks made by nesting sea turtles.  Their journey from the sea to the desired nesting place would carve unmistakable trails in the sand.

Often, we’d spot a sea turtle mid-nest, but – for one uncertain reason or another – she’d change her mind about her choice of nesting location and heave her heavy domed body back to the waves.

As record keepers, we’d log these encounters as “False Starts”.

False Start: A sea turtle sighting, a nest attempted, but then the sea turtle’s intentions would lose slack and she’d return to the sea.  Her nest dug, but her eggs unlaid.

We would be squatting in the dark, a fair distance away, watching for over an hour sometimes, as a sea turtle paddled in circles, and dug a hole halfway with her flippers, making a mess in the sand and the twigs.  We humans, hunched and silently watching, waited for her delivery of eggs we would then collect and carefully transport to safer, protected land.  All of us hopeful.

A False Start meant our efforts were futile. Hours of walking, waiting, watching, and preparing, only to result in the feeling of disappointment from there being no sea turtle eggs to save this time.  Our purpose would have been abandoned with the nest.

And the sea turtle? How would she have felt?  We couldn’t ask.

False Starts meant that effort and hope led to nothing.

This is how I felt all week.

In truth, the feeling doesn’t match the reality. But the feeling pervades.

There have been various attempts to complete or progress on different business tasks.  Writing this week’s post, for example, has resulted in several abandoned drafts.  Attempting to revise my marketing strategy is another event that left me feeling like I was just paddling around in the sand for hours with nothing productive to show for it.

Those are bigger examples.  There were smaller, less important False Starts this week, but they are no less irritating. Things like driving 45 minutes each way to the grocery store for simple items that should have been easy to find but just weren’t in stock.  Stupid things, like looking for the right-sized trash bin to hold my recycling now that we finally have recycling in Nicaragua.  Or searching for a drying rack for my laundry so I can cut down on the use of the dryer.

Big or small, these were fruitless attempts that sucked hours from my week and left me with nothing.

I realize that some False Starts are out of my control.  I have no power over what items the local mercados in this country keep fully stocked.

But some things, particularly when it comes to writing, creating, and business-running, I could dig a little further for.

For the last couple of weeks, I have been reading (and learning from) a book called The Positivity Effect.  It’s chock full of gems I eagerly stuff down my pockets. Gems of insight I want to share with clients.  Gems of perspective I will share in DNM chats with my friends when they come around my porch to drink wine on the weekends. (Pro tip: DNM = deep ‘n’ meaningful.).

One section in the book emphasizes the importance of learning how to wrangle our thoughts toward a more positive outlook. Our thoughts have a derailing habit of leaning into the negative side of situations.

I don’t know why most of us seem programmed to dwell in all that is burning down around us, but we do.  Myself included.

Mastering the skill of intentionally re-rerouting our thoughts to focus on the good, either while self-reflecting or outwardly judging, would mean we could brighten up our perspective on how we are all doing.  We could recalibrate our thoughts to also remember the wins we’ve had instead of calculating all the False Starts.  Or all the fails.

This positive approach doesn’t mean we invalidate all the rough stuff we might have gone through.  Negativity has usefulness, after all.

But there is power in choosing our thoughts.

When I think of this past week stretching out behind me as a dark beach lined with zig-zagging trails in the sand that lead to empty holes, False Starts littering the coast, it feels a bit defeating.  And there is truth on that beach in my mind.  There have been disappointments.

But, encouraged (and sometimes stubbornly insistent) to focus on the good, I can choose to see a nest of eggs here, and a nest of eggs there.  Not every trail is a False Start.

I’ve made inspiring new connections for my business.   Praise showed up for a few of my professional efforts in ways I didn’t expect.  Rigorous workouts found their way into my days.

And as you can see, despite my struggle with writer’s block and the ensuing panic felt from the judge-y ticking clock alerting me that my time to write has nearly passed, I managed to write a piece this week anyway.

False Starts are part of life’s fabric.  It happens to sea turtles, and it happens to us.  I suppose if all I ever remembered from my sea turtle days were False Starts and empty nests, I would have lost the passion for it. My memories of those days would be dismal and disappointing.

But, more than anything, what I do remember are the efforts of those massive sea turtles.  I remember the experience, of walking the beaches at night along the dark shores, quiet and hopeful.  I remember the bounty of sea turtle eggs we were able to save, gather, protect, and release the hatchlings weeks later.

So, this week, we can probably all give a nod to the False Starts, sure. Maybe they served some purpose.

But if we give ourselves a nudge, we can look behind us and remember the bounty we collected with our efforts this week, too.

We can re-steer our thoughts towards the positive, log it, and then head out into the next week, carving new trails with effort and hope.

~ Christy

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Christy Nichols  |  Contribution: 11,555