Updated: Nov 19, 2019
We can whittle choices down to two: what we want and what we settle for.
Want is usually symbolic of how we see ourselves, whether it’s reality or who we want to be. Want can be reckless or questionable. It can also lead to freedom from the chains of our own fears. Often, treasure is found on the other side of fear. Settling is mostly safe, placing more weight on responsibility, stability, and consequence. Settling frees us from external expectations. Failure isn’t rampant when safety is chosen. Some want to experience the thrilling high dive. Others settle for the comfort of the low.
Neither choice is superior. But one comes with a distinct caveat. WARNING: Shark Infested Waters.
Sharks swims below our surface. They can be as cunning as the persons who never like anything we post, but troll our pages. They are the first persons to bite when we’ve achieved anything — even a haircut. Sharks are often regretful, never rising above their fears or circumstances. Sharks see someone’s freedom—success, popularity, attractiveness, adoration — and challenge its validity. Some sharks are hidden. But all sharks feed off of envy.
Not long ago, while at a reception for an industry leader, I looked forward to the hobnobbing. I love a good hobnobbing — champagne pops, fancy small plates from fancy Creole restaurants, and small chat. Small chat is my jam! But on this night it was more like small whisper — lots of “Did you hear this?” or “Did you know that?” about the honoree. None of the chatter was particularly flattering, and by the end of the night I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone even liked the person that they paid $200 a seat to honor. It also dawned on me that not a single person knew the honoree either. Everyone was a shark, determined to slowly chip away at another’s success.
It’s so easy to “shark” and engage in what I experienced while hobnobbing. Nothing makes you realize what you’re lacking more than staring at it in the face of another. Nothing tempers the wounds of jealousy quite like undercutting. If you mock that which you secretly envy in another, alleging it frivolous or even concocted, no one will notice that you don’t possess it yourself. That’s what plays through the mind while sharking and what prevents us from realizing that those we’re hating on aren’t the problem. We are. We ruin the value of others because we can’t find our own.
Other times, we are sharked.
About a year ago after making an unconventional but authentic choice within a group I served, I was attacked. The bloodbath on my nerves was epic. Lately, as I navigate the seas getting closer and closer to where I want to be professionally and emotionally, I feel bites from those who never seemed to care before. Are they all sharks, legit haters envious of some self-emancipation I have discovered that they haven’t? Or, am I unintentionally making them feel inferior?
We all have a back story, the pitfalls and miracles that trigger our success, and the setbacks and restraints that lead to our settling. I know my story, but I don’t know yours. Perhaps therein lies the ultimate defense. Rather than live by the rule that if you bleed in water, sharks find you, why not share vulnerability? It’s a powerful quality we possess as humans because it’s the most relatable, the most humane. Honesty about failures and fears turns hatred into empathy.
What of rogue sharks? They pack a big bite and demand grit. However, predators die when they have nothing to hunt. We can rise above. We can feed focus, rather than evil, and starve the distraction of hatred by following our own paths.
I know enough to know that if I don’t feel like I am ascending, I will naturally descend. In those instances, I must deal with my demons before they are my demise. If I focus on those above me, I’ll remain below. But, if I also remember that we’re all capable of sharky behavior, taking chances isn’t so scary. If I jump into a sea of sharks, they are only a threat when I forget that they are no different than I.
On a snorkeling excursion in Key West, my father coaxed a Blacktip Reef shark from its cave, inviting a predator to our dive. I swam both terrified and energized by the energy of the shark in the depths below. I savored the thrill of challenging a fear. Meanwhile, my sister drifted from the group early on, never seeing the shark and instead, following a school of beautiful Blue Tang. She absorbed herself in her own motivation and never looked back.
Sometimes we choose to acknowledge hostility. Other times, we recognize the beauty around it instead.
Two choices. Neither superior.
Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.