Two Bears

Mike McGough
March 2018

His first trip to Alaska was during his freshman year of college on an ecological expedition for an environmental biology course. He fell in love with the place and promised himself that he would some day own a piece of this paradise. In time he did. For two months each year that is where he refreshed and recharged himself. That is where he contemplated and refined the strategies and techniques he offered as a career coach. He also fished, read, wrote, relaxed, hiked, and spent time watching the brown bear feeding on sockeye salmon in Brooks River. No matter how many times he watched, there was always something majestic about these large powerful creatures feeding on the salmon.

One July he arrived in Alaska still thinking about one particular client. She was in a troublesome career stall. Initially she blamed it on bad luck, then she switched to unexplainable karma. Try as he might he couldn’t get her to accept the fact that it was, at least to some degree, her lack of effort on her own behalf. She had become resentful and as a result she began to withdraw, wallowing in self-pity.

Having worked with her for years, he had noticed that her drive and her initiative had declined with each step up the corporate ladder. She thought her momentum and past efforts would push her right up the ladder with little or no additional work. He tried time and again to explain that the likelihood of that was slim, and that she had to begin acting on her own best interests as she had in the past. Each time she offered some excuse and sidestepped his advice.

By mid-August the brown bear were feeding daily and most days he walked to the overlook to watch them. As he watched one day, he noticed something. Some of the bear stood along the shore waiting for salmon to come along, while others were in the middle of the stream grabbing fish at will. There was a seemingly endless supply midstream with far fewer along the shore. As he watched he also noticed that bears in the stream were larger than those along the shore. The size difference was noticeable. When he went back the next day he saw a similar pattern. Thinking that this may be true of just this group of bears, he went to two other nearby sites. After watching there for a time, he noticed the same thing. Big bears get in the stream and feed themselves freely, while smaller ones stand along the side of the stream waiting for the salmon to come to them.

He returned to his cabin, and drafted the following email to his stalled client.

Hope this email finds you well. Am in Alaska and learned something that I’d like to share. Alaskan brown bear feed on salmon this time of year. I’ve been watching them for many years, but this year, I observed something that heretofore I hadn’t noticed. Some bears stand along the shore waiting for salmon to happen along. Then and only then do they make a move and get something to eat.

Other bears stand in the middle of the stream, and they feed at will. They go to the salmon, and they grab a fish anytime they wish. They eat more fish than the shore bears. Interestingly, the bears that make the effort to get into the stream and actively seek salmon are much bigger. There is little wonder that they are, since they feed far more easily and more generously than the timid or lazy bears that wait for the salmon to come to them.

My advice to you is this. If you want to continue waiting for opportunities to come to you, keep standing along the shore of your life. If you do you’ll likely remain a smaller bear than you want to be. If, on the other hand you decide to wade into the stream of life and get closer to the opportunities that swim there, you are likely going to feed better and longer, and grow bigger in the process. You can either be a larger corporate bear, or a smaller one; the choice is yours.

Be well, enjoy the rest of your summer, and I’ll see you in October.

Regardless of what you do in life, you have the same option as the brown bears. You can stand along the shoreline and wait for opportunities to come to you, or you can go out into the stream and choose the ones that are right for you. If you want to grow and improve your lot in life, get into the stream. Opportunities, like the salmon, are there if you take the time to find them.