Ducks Don’t Paddle Like Hell

There, I said it. You’ve heard the little inspirational quote about how serene a duck looks on the surface, but underneath he’s paddling like hell. It’s supposed to mean that you should never assume successful people find it easy, that if you just work hard enough and try to look good doing it, you can be successful too.

But it’s not true. Ducks don’t stay afloat by paddling like hell. They stay afloat because they’re shaped like a boat and they’re waterproof.

So much for inspiration. You too could float if you had the right shape and happened to be waterproof. Just like you could be a ballerina if you were skinny and could stand on your toes; the president if you were charismatic and knew the right people; a football player if you were big and could throw a ball.

But wait, there’s more. Look a little closer. The duck may be shaped like a boat because it happens to be a duck… but it’s not automatically waterproof just because it’s a duck. It’s true the duck has feathers with tightly woven strands that link together almost microscopically, and an oil gland that produces waterproofing material for the feathers… but it still wouldn’t float without one key element:

Hours upon hours, day in and day out, spent pressing minuscule amounts of oil from a gland near the tail, and carefully applying it to each and every feather while simultaneously smoothing those microscopically fine links together to form a watertight barrier.

Without that daily, hourly, dedicated ministration to their key attribute, ducks will and do fail at swimming. Ducklings are notoriously prone to drowning because they haven’t perfected the art (nor do they have the fully mature physical capability) of oiling their feathers. And occasionally, adult ducks get lazy, stop oiling their feathers, and sink.

Usually though, floating IS easy for a duck, just not because it’s born that way. It’s easy for the duck because the duck spends hours every day preparing.

And on closer inspection, the same is true for the ballerina. Sure, she has to start with the right kind of physique. But the right physique doesn’t automatically make the moves easy. They are easy for her because she practices them every day. You could say she spends hours oiling her feathers. The same is true for the football player, the famous public speaker, the celebrity, the award-winning graphic designer, the suave CEO. In essence, anyone who is good at anything gets that way by oiling their feathers. Every single day.

How have you oiled your feathers today?

11 responses to “Ducks Don’t Paddle Like Hell

  1. Reading the Bible, praying, seeking and giving forgiveness, talking with Bryan, eating yummy food, watching my children play in the ocean, receiving random encouragement from a stranger, and lots of cuddles and hugs and kisses — these are the things that have kept me afloat today : )

  2. Haley is visiting this week. When I read her your blog on oiling your feathers, I asked her what she had done today to oil her feathers: “I made a rock chair. I played with a friend, I helped Jaima gather rocks to build a rock cascade. And during a thunderstorm and downpour while we were hiking and still a 1/2 mile from the car, lightening struck really close. I was really scared and soaked to the bone, but I MADE it! Grandfather said that I was real trouper. Is that oiling my feathers?”

  3. Awwww… What a beautiful answer. Tell Haley I miss her terribly. I wish I could build rock chairs and hike in thunderstorms with her too. And yes, Haley, that is most definitely oiling your feathers. Swim on, girl!

  4. lovely writing and great thoughts. very right on.
    I am the gal you helped over at backyard chickens in the duck forum.
    Lots of love to you.

    • Hi Cory! Thank you so much for your kind comment. I’m so glad I was able to help you. Your writing is wonderful too–I’m glad you included your blog link here. I’ll be checking in with you over there too!

  5. You just burst my bubble… miss curiosity cat 😛
    My Dad showed me this drawing he got from work about the calm and cool duck on top and paddling like hell underneath and it was inspirational to me as a young teenage boy. I was looking to see if I could find the drawing and ended up here and you blew it for me. Now I wanna be an Ostridge…okay just kidding but still… I know duck are beautiful creatures, subject of many of my photographs and they float, once watched one play with my dog in a shallow pond, the dog would go for it and it would go under and come up behind him quietly.. very funny. The duck seemed to enjoy until it got bored and flew off. Well thanks for taking away my inspiration… God Bless to all.

  6. This may seem strange, but I oiled my feathers by curling up for a twenty minute, sneaky nap while the boys played quietly, and then moved the computer outside. Now I’m ready to write!

  7. Pingback: Blogging Against Disablism Day 2015: Is It Time To Retrain… As A Fish? - Journeymouse·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s