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Lessons learned from a bird of prey

 It was a crisp and cold morning. The lake was still, like a mirror. The sun had just risen. Every few seconds the bald eagle would glide through the sky and then swoop down to catch a fish in the water. 

If he missed, he would start over. 

Glide, swoop. Glide, swoop. 

Until finally, he was rewarded by his efforts. 

When my boyfriend, Matthew, finished with a recent early morning run, this is the story he told me. He and three friends do a six- to nine-mile run each weekend. These runs usually begin at 5:30 a.m. and end around 7 a.m. 

But when Matthew finished this particular run, he didn’t report their conversations about kids or work or their random guy banter about this or that. No, he told me this story about the elegant bald eagle at Lake Junaluska. The scene was a visual that resonated with both of us. Even though I didn’t see it play out in person, his retelling was so descriptive it affected me just the same. 

As humans we can give up easily. Our frail senses of diligence and perseverance can wane quickly. Our attention spans are easily manipulated. We tend to rely on comfort zones and routines as opposed to stretching our talents. In contrast, animals lack the ability to reflect and reason and are therefore driven by survival. 

One time I saw a graphic that depicted a tiny circle with the words “comfort zone” inside. The neighboring circle was huge by comparison with the words “best life.” It was a simple black and white graphic with a powerful message. When we remain in the same place, growth is nearly impossible. When we stretch ourselves, try new things and live with an open mind, growth is everywhere. 

With my children’s book publishing this past November, I’ve experienced a number of things outside my comfort zone. I’ve been asked to speak at schools, rotary clubs and bookstores. I’ve gone to conferences and book festivals and stood alongside authors with many more titles and accolades than I. Going into each of these events, I felt anxiety and fear of the unknown. I forged ahead anyway and each time, I felt myself change and evolve in the best ways. 

This week introduces the season of Lent. From Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, individuals worldwide will embrace the 40 days in between. It’s meant to be a time of waiting, preparation and fasting. 

Sometime in early adulthood, I began honoring this season. I’ve given up things such as gum, gluten, alcohol, caffeine and other luxuries. I’ve also taken on challenges such as running every day or reading a certain number of books. I’ve put some thought to what I want to embrace this year. 

For me personally, giving up something like a food or beverage doesn’t do a lot for my psyche or well being. I’m generally a very healthy, active person and do a good job of moderating consumables that are bad for me. Emotionally, I’ve experienced significant loss over the past four years so taking on something good helps to fill some of that void. 

Matthew and I have decided that we’re going to take on the challenge of getting up at a certain time each morning to ensure we start the day in the right mind frame. We’ve learned that at least 30 minutes of quiet time reading, praying or journaling does wonders for the soul, especially before diving headlong into a day of stimulation. The aim is to get up by 5:15 a.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. on weekend, and we plan to hold one another accountable. 

I’ve always loved those hours before dawn. Back when I was teaching, I had a dream to be a writer. Every morning I woke up early and worked on my writing career before getting ready for school. Once I had my first child, I woke up even earlier because as parents know, babies are on their own schedule and I knew I had to get my own stuff accomplished to be a happy, clear-headed mom. 

During these early morning hours, I obtained a journalism add-on degree, started a mom blog, wrote numerous articles and columns, and finished writing four books, one of which has been published. Now, even though I’m not teaching, I have similar goals. I get up early and work on my own writing goals before arriving at The Smoky Mountain News for the day. 

With all of that being said, there are days where I just don’t feel like getting up or I hit the snooze button one too many time. It’s especially hard to get up early on the weekends. I’m hopeful during this Lenten season these new wake-up times will become a disciplined habit like they once were. 

Perhaps it’s a bald eagle gliding and swooping to find his breakfast or a mom waking up before daybreak to accomplish goals and dreams. The purpose is the same. Whether human or beast, we’re all on the same path, a path to live our absolute best lives and embrace those tentative parts of us that, if left alone, will never catch a fish. 

(Susanna Shetley is writer, editor and digital media specialist for The Smoky Mountain News, Smoky Mountain Living and Mountain South Media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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