“Don’t eat alone.” And other sage advice humpback whales gave me.
At a critical point in life I got schooled by some humpback whales. To this day I’m still learning to take their advice.
It was a July day four years ago when I found myself dashing to the side of a boat, slip-sliding and fumbling for my phone. Awe had seemed to seize my muscles. Words wouldn’t form but our boat was awash with ooohs and awwws.
While boating along the Kenai Peninsula we had happened upon a group of humpback whales bubble net feeding. These humpbacks were in a circle jumping, splashing, looking like they were playing a children’s game. I was witnessing divine magic.
Yet, this wasn’t play. It was a survival skill…and a raucous feast. This practice of bubble net feeding is apparently a learned skill, not a natural habit. They come together to blow bumbles to trap schools of fish. (Here’s a fabulous short video explaining how it works.)
The popular theory is that they decided to not eat alone after being hunted to almost extinction. By coming together and creating this net of bumbles they increase their odds of all eating.
As I mentioned, I witnessed this four years ago. At the beginning of that summer I had shoved my belongings in storage to see if I could design a non-traditional career for a season. I had headed off to Cuba to chase a story and explore independent filmmaking. I also led a service trip to Haiti and then set off to Alaska to lead another one.
I had no idea what I was in for. When I filled that storage unit on that Memorial Day weekend I thought I’d retrieve my belongings by Labor Day and have a traditional career sorted out again.
Four years later, a traditional career seems like a distant memory. To be quite candid, my career was never traditional in the type of work, but I did have a salary and benefits. What I had back then was a sense of job security, financial security, and frankly false security.
Swimming in these “non-traditional career” waters has been challenging—ok, heart-pounding scary at times. More than once I have felt on the brink of extinction…out on my own as a humpback whale trying to live off of minnows.
The gig economy can be so isolating. The entrepreneurial world can seem like shark infested waters. Going solo can feel like being hunted.
But when I’ve remembered “not to eat alone” I have been able to do what I couldn’t on my own. During this time I have had the opportunity to work on multiple continents, meet remarkable people, tell some incredible stories and co-found two companies.
When I have circled up with others, I have been energized, nourished and at times it has felt like divine magic.
The phrase that keeps coming back to me is this:
Community creates capacity.
I can’t help writing about this again and again because it feels like my survival depends on it. And while I gain energy with people and love to collaborate, I still try “to eat alone” way too much these days. Without the structure of an office and the rhythm of a team, I can forget the power of community.
So I’m learning to ask myself: What’s one thing I can do to create community today?
Today, it’s writing this blog and asking YOU what you do to not eat alone? How are you creating community?
And feel free to share any advice you’ve gotten from humpback whales or other creatures.