While talking with a friend in the investment world I’d asked him how things were going. His response struck me as odd and it took a little while to register… “I’m throwing starfish into the ocean, one at a time.” In his voice I could hear his smile and his passion for helping people very clearly. As our conversation when on it finally donned on me where that phrase was from, a story I’d heard once or twice a long time ago.
Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
adapted by Peter Straube from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)
How awesome is that story? There are couple of ways that this stories hits me hard, right between the eyes.
So many times in life I find myself coming up with crazy huge ideas that I want to be totally ginormous in scope, as grand as possible. When that happens I usually end up putting a lot of thought into it, but not a lot actually happens. Had I spent more time taking the small initial actions there would have been progress, maybe the results wouldn’t have been as grand, but there would have been results.
When presenting I sometimes get disappointed when I can’t seem to get someone in the room engaged. Try as I might to get them involved I just can’t quite seem to bring them along and into the conversation. When this happens I mentally get frustrated and try to think of ways to involve them, while I’m presenting. As I think while presenting the quality of my presentation goes down. In those moments I need to remember to focus on the ones that I can make an impact on.
Both ways hit me hard today and I chuckled to myself as I saw them happen. What a beautifully simple story to help keep me on track and pointed in the right direction.
As I talked with Steve he shared that he kept a starfish at his desk to remind him of this story on a daily basis. Don’t be too surprised if you see something similar on my desk in the not too distant future.