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?