Hiding Our Talents In Plain Sight: What Nature Can Teach Us About How We Lead | South Shore Moms

This article is written by TSSM’s contributor Joanna Dutra, a member of The Forbes Coaches Council. Creative confidence coach (The Creative Confidant) with a Fortune 500 background, focused on helping clients build their best personal brand.


My drive home one day was thrown off by stopped cars on both sides of a state highway. Must be an accident, I thought. Instead, I had a ringside seat to a poultry provocation: two large turkeys battling it out like Brad Pitt and Edward Norton in Fight Club.

These gobblers were neck and neck, they held up traffic as they held up each other like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed in round 15. I wanted to cry “fowl,” but there was too much “rubbernecking.”

My 9-year-old daughter’s reaction to the story was, “I bet they were fighting over a female. But that would be strange because mating season is usually in spring for many animals in the wild.” She continued, “There’s a male fish that makes a pattern with its body in the sand. The pattern is stunning. If the female likes the design, she’ll lay her eggs in the middle.”

Drawing attention to your artistic prowess is an interesting way to find a mate — and an interesting way to lead. While it may look different than a colorful beak or special dance routine, each of us has a unique strategy for garnering attention.

Spotting Our Strengths Vs. Shortcomings

We attempt a lot of things to stand out from the crowd. And we don’t always lead with our strengths. It’s really a matter of finding what we do well to attract others to our world and into our sphere. Animals instinctively seem to know what strengths to accentuate, but we humans are not always sure what to feature.

Why should we be afraid to show our true colors? Many animals use camouflage to detract predators, like the chameleon or tree frog that changes color to match its background. It’s essential for survival. We’re not made to blend in, but sometimes it’s hard to stand out.

We’re trained to spot our shortcomings and reluctant to share our strengths. We all remember people who have highlighted our weaknesses. It’s easy to find things to pick on. That’s why it’s critical to know ourselves and be honest about what we do well. We must take a personal assessment from time to time. Just because something was a weakness yesterday doesn’t mean it can’t be a strength tomorrow. It sounds simple, but habits form early in life and if we’re told we’re not good at something enough times by enough people, we stop trying. We give up.

There’s a quote from the main character in the autobiographical film Rudy that sticks with me: “My whole life, people have been telling me what I could do and couldn’t do. I’ve always listened to them, believed in what they said. I don’t wanna do that anymore.”

Staying True To Our Nature

I’m not a student of physics, but I am fascinated by a law of buoyancy called the “Archimedes Principle.” Even if you’re not familiar with the principle, you’re likely familiar with the concept: In essence, if you hold a beach ball under water, it will only remain under water until you release your hand. Then, the ball will spring back up from beneath the surface. I relate this to human behavior. We can try to suppress our true nature but, eventually, it’s bound to emerge. Why not try to stay as true to ourselves as possible? Why fight gravitational pull?

20/20 Vision And The Lens With Which We See The World

How we view things, the lens through which we see the world, is critical to both our understanding as well as our feeling of fulfillment. Although we strive for perfection, we don’t expect perfection except when it comes to our vision.

As the daughter of an ophthalmologist, I know we need help to get perfect vision — whether it’s for seeing long distance or reading, contact lenses for sports or help with depth perception. Whatever the reason, we find little tweaks to help us attain the best vision possible, the ability to see 20/20.

My daughter plays goalie on her soccer team. It’s never been a dream of mine to save goals; I believe all the glory is bestowed upon the heroic makers of goals — the playmakers. My brain has been focused and trained to believe that winning is the goal and the reason — always. Full stop. Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” I read that near the end of his life, he amended his thoughts: “I wished I’d never said the thing… I meant the effort. I meant having a goal.” So many of us didn’t get this memo.

It’s taken me well into adulthood to realize not only that there’s way more to be learned from losing, but also that there are a lot of different ways to contribute to a team’s feeling of victory without actually winning. There’s power in helping a team in a different way. Saving a goal feels heroic, even if you lose 10-1. I’d never considered that it could mean more to prevent a loss than it could to contribute to a win. It relates back to which lens I used to view the experience. If I’m seeing things clearly, I understand that satisfaction is derived in more than one way. I can’t view a loss as all my fault any more than I can view a victory as all my doing.

It’s time to talk turkey. I’ve committed these three key truths to memory:

1. Just because someone’s better at something doesn’t mean you aren’t good.

2. Just because someone tells you that you’re not good at something doesn’t make it true.

3. Just because you failed once doesn’t mean you can’t succeed.

Let’s be ourselves most of the time instead of some of the time. Let’s identify the things that differentiate us and lead with those. Take a lesson from nature: attract others with our most defining characteristics and never camouflage our strengths.

Join The South Shore Moms Community

Stay up-to-date with what is happening in-and-around the South Shore of MA with local events, community highlights, and exclusive deals.