There I was on my first day of school, excited, scared, bravely clutching my suitcase in which Mom had packed some sandwiches and a juice box. Two pigtails, school dress hanging to my scraped knees, black polished shoes scuffed already.
Mrs. Buys, our grade one teacher, was also ready for the day. She’d seen thousands of bright little faces come and go over the years and she always welcomed them with kindness. I think she had one main aim for the day. When her new charges go home after that memorable first day and their parents ask the dreaded, all important question – the question being: “What did you learn today”- they had to have a good answer, an answer that illustrated learning.
In order to reach this goal, she explained to us in simple terms the difference between mammals, reptiles and birds. This, she probably thought to herself, was sure to be a lunch time hit with the parents.
She described the differences between the categories, placing each category of animal neatly into its own box, metaphorically speaking, at some point mentioning that mammals do not lay eggs.
And that’s when I put up my hand and respectfully told her that she’s wrong, because of the duckbilled platypus – one of the weirdest animals in the world. When the Duckbilled platypus was first discovered, some academics actually thought that it was impossibility. They were sure that someone had taken various parts of different animals and stitched them all together as a hoax – something that was apparently prevalent at the time – sort of the Victorian version of Punk’ed.
This animal has a bill like a duck, a tail like a beaver and it lays eggs.
And then it suckles its young. Except it has no nipples, the milk simply oozes from its skin.
Oh, and they are venomous too. The snake-like venom can kill a dog and will certainly ruin a human’s day.
They have a sophisticated type of electro-sensory system in their beaks to find their prey underwater, almost like dolphins, which is needed because they close their eyes and ears as they dive. They have no stomachs, and they also invented the use of dentures, scooping up gravel from the bottom of the pond to chew their food.
The sheer awesomeness of this animal, for me, lies in its uncompromising uniqueness and in the way it totally and utterly refuses to get into any of the boxes we’ve created to sort our animals and do things the normal, expected way.
From the time we are born, we are being put into boxes of expected behaviour. The boxes encompass our whole being and almost everything we do, from the way we dress to the way we wear our hair. It is cultural, based on our sex, based on our age, based on our religion. Boxes inside boxes upon boxes: all filled with ways in which we should think and be and act, similar to the boxes we put our animals in.
Girls should play with dolls, men shouldn’t cry, it is weird to believe in unicorns, you shouldn’t wear mini’s at forty or wear your hair too long as you get older.
But what if we let the duckbilled platypus, the animal that refuses to be put into any box and just goes its own way, be our guide…
What would happen if you could give yourself the space to live your life, and to be who you actually are? Not this construct of other people’s thoughts, this poor shriveled thing cowering inside a tower of boxes, shrinking yourself to fit other’s expectations and ideas of who and what you should be, think, say and do?
I’ve honestly come to believe that great lives are not lived in boxes. Great things are not done in boxes. In order to live the extraordinary lives we are meant to live, we have to get rid of the boxes. We have to embrace the space and possibilities that exist outside of the boxes.
In a world full of same-looking same-quacking ducks or ducks secretly trying to be “swans”, the Hollywood celebrity version of a duck, the platypus is awesome and unique and confounding and surprising and totally unforgettable.
A lot of what is wrong with the world today is that a lot of people who aren’t ducks are disguising themselves as ducks to fit in, and then beating themselves up for not reaching that epitome of celebrity duckhood: swanhood.
The most valuable currency in the world today is authenticity.
I believe that the number one driver of entrepreneurial success is the connection that is possible with your clients when you allow yourself the space to come from a place of soul-deep integrity, speaking and marketing and living your unique truth and allowing the real you to shine through.
If you can embrace this simple box-destroying truth, there is no stopping you.