Once upon a time there was a tuna who lived in the Gulf of México, who I will call Tunita. She cavorted with her friends and began growing from her juvenile size of half an inch to close to about 2 feet long at 1.5 years. This group of friends and her were shoaling, swimming somewhat independently, but in such a way that they stay connected, forming a social group that provided defense against predators and enhanced their foraging for other fish, squid, shellfish, and plankton. Tunita did not know how big a tuna should grow in the wild, because 90 percent of the worldwide catch of Pacific Bluefin tuna is less than 2 years old and under 3 feet long. She did not know that she could live over twenty years, weigh 1,000 pounds, and be 9-13 feet in length.
Ferrari of the Ocean
Imagine all the tunas swimming with Tunita, fish who can cut through the sea at up to 43 miles an hour. Tunita began swimming across the gulf, her and her shoal’s intention to cross the entire Atlantic Ocean and feed off the coast of Europe, and then swim all the way back to the Gulf to breed. Why go so far? Because those are the best feeding grounds. Tunita doesn’t know it, but she is the Ferrari of the ocean—sleek, powerful, and made for speed. Her growing torpedo-shaped body streamlines through the water, and her special swimming muscles enables her to cruise the ocean highways with great efficiency. She is with bigger tunas who have made the passage many times.
But sadly for Tunita and many of her friends, tuna highways have turned into gauntlets lined with giant nets and endless lines of fishing boats. Fishermen have resorted to high-tech ways to catch Tunita, including devices that draw the fish into bunches so that fishermen can catch more of them at once. One day after they have rounded Florida, Tunita finds herself caught in a net that tugs her slowly up with many of her friends and many of the bigger tunas. Just as they are about to be dropped on to the deck of a boat, she wriggles free and drops back into the ocean. Her size saves her that time, and even though she is in constant danger of not reaching her full size, she perseveres and reaches the best feeding grounds year after year until she grows to be her full length and weight.
We too can meet the fate of Tunita’s friends, and die having only grown to one third of what we could be.
Nets in our Minds
When I was young, I had amazing dreams. Then my dream became entangled in a net made of family obligations, other people’s dreams, and the glass ceilings placed on me by virtue of gender, race, class, and my parents’ national origin and educational level. I didn’t notice our growth had stopped because all the other fish around me were about the same size and I began to think it was normal. I stopped making the effort to understand and thus reach my best feeding grounds. When someone came along and was what we might call “larger than life” like Tunita, I saw them as an outlier, an exception, crazy, gifted, not part of my shoal.
Unlike Tunita and the many tunas who face extinction, many of our nets are in our mind. Like her, we can escape and grow into big tunas who find the best environment to thrive, even if it means temporarily or permanently leaving your shoal to find other big or growing tunas. This act of self-compassion is an inner journey that dissolves nets to release our energy and join with others committed to full-hearted growth. This synergy becomes so powerful that you become ensnared less and less with negative messages that you don’t deserve to live your purpose. We all have the capacity to shine the light we were given at birth.
Embracing Conscious Habits
How do we untangle ourselves and begin to swim freely when we are on parched land with a limited mindset and bruised heart? We have to stop worshipping big tunas and instead learn what it takes for us to shine – this usually means releasing our comfortable habitat and embracing failure as a natural outgrowth of risk. Not once, not twice, but as a conscious, habitual approach to life.
Why do we separate ourselves from our greatness? Marianne Williamson says it in a passage many have heard:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
This means taking a good, long look in the mirror and admitting we have decided, consciously or unconsciously, to play small. It could be in many areas. Let me share two that are core to my transformational process.
Physical health: How many of us have taken the time to decide what our optimal health is? Often we have a vague idea of some amount of exercise, some general food and drink parameters, and a minimum sleep requirement. Have we done actual research to identify what our body needs specific to our age, our preferences, and our lifestyle? Do we know what our body positively responds to and are we diligent in honoring those needs? Have we created structures that hold us accountable?
Financial prosperity: Can you tell me how much you spend on transportation each month, each year? What is your basic budget that covers your essentials each month? Have you explored what Robert Kiyosaki calls the Cash Flow quadrant and determined your plan for generating income apart from trading time for money? What is the glass ceiling you have placed above yourself, the limit of money you are allowed to generate? Women talk about the glass ceiling all the time and bemoan sexism and I did too. I woke up one day and looked up at my self-imposed glass ceiling. Ouch. I found the courage to face my own limiting beliefs about what I could earn – it was about $80,000, just a little higher than what I had ever earned. Why? Because it would create a little more ease while not allowing me to dream big. It would also separate me from my shoal — people committed to social justice who thought wealth was equivalent to greed and self-aggrandizement. By exploring the truth behind this belief, I fueled the heat needed to melt my ceiling.
Limiting Self Talk
My aspiration and momentum now is to grow into being a big tuna. Sounds great, right? Not always so. Unlike tunas in the sea, if we get bigger, people get scared. You no longer mirror their own self-limiting beliefs.
You can be met with verbal or non-verbal messages like:
Why do you care so much?
Why can’t you settle down?
That seems really unrealistic.
Can you tone it down?
How can you live in such a wealthy area?
Many of these have been internalized so we police ourselves. Limiting self talk that are the nets in our mind.
Only Data, Not Destiny
What is one step in this journey to better feeding grounds? For me it was seeing information and experiences as only data to assist me to make the next best decision. Oops, I went up the wrong driveway. Let me back up, call a friend, and find my way to my destination. It is not my destiny to stay in poor feeding grounds.
As a school educated, middle class woman of color, I am often not among many people who look like me in privileged settings. My protective survival mode wants to get riled up and angry about the lack of diversity in yoga classes, in business conventions, at buddhist temples, and when river rafting or kayaking. Problem is, starting from this place automatically shuts down my capacity to feel like I belong, and that then shuts down my capacity to be fully present and accept the amazing gifts available to me in the moment.
When I began assessing information as data without immediately using old strategies that simply entangled me emotionally and spirtually, I could then see and scan my options and make decisions with grace and ease. There is still plenty of room for my disappointments, pain, and also for authentic compassion. There is also more room for growing even in feeding grounds that are not ideal, because I am relentless in living my purpose.
Perseverance is non-negotiable to live with the tangle of internal nets that will try again and again to have us play small in life. It is up to each of us to discover and swim to our dreams so that our inner Ferraris can rev up their motors. Decide on and commit to your best feeding grounds. Your journey will require you to return to them again and again, regardless of the changing currents and nets that are inevitable but not the last word. Your growing, brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous being will make sure of that.