Once upon a time in a land far, far away lived a majestic eagle and her brood of eaglets. They lived in a large nest high above the forest floor with a spectacular view of the valley down below. One day, while mama eagle was off gathering food, the tiniest eaglet, Squirt, tumbled out of the nest. He bounced off branches, brushed through leaves and landed on the dark forest floor.
Squirt was not injured in the fall, but he was confused and frightened. He tried to climb back up the tree, but found he was not a good climber. The next morning as he lay cold, wet and hungry he saw what looked somewhat like his kin, but different and odd… kind of like distant relatives.
These relatives were from the duck family and would often quack, fuss and carry on. Out of options, Squirt decided to follow them. Mama duck looked at him oddly at first, but then took pity on the desperate little eaglet. She took Squirt in and raised him along with the rest of her ducklings.
Over time, Squirt forgot who he was and where he came from. He began to think of himself as a duck. But no matter how hard he tried, he was not a very good duck. When the other ducks would quack, he would let out a blood curdling screech that would send the flock fleeing for their lives. When they would fly in formation, he would go too fast and send foul and feathers flying in all directions. When they would paddle happily around the pond, he would stand on shore alone because he was web-challenged and would sink like a rock.
By the time Squirt began school with the ducklings, it was clear that he was having developmental difficulties. To help him assimilate, he was enrolled in remedial quacking class during the school year. His summer days were spent away at paddling camp with other “special” ducks.
No matter how much he tried, Squirt just had no interest in getting ahead on the pond. He was fascinated by the mountain range and spent his time daydreaming about the possibilities that lay far beyond. This unusual behavior did not go unnoticed by his classmates and the ducklings would often have great fun at his expense. They called Squirt “birdbrain,” “freak,” “flake,” and worst of all, “odd duck.” He would often cry himself to sleep. The land of tears is indeed a lonely place.
By his late teens, he was desperate to find an answer. Not one for giving up, he powered through all the self-help books: “Awakening your Inner Duck,” “The Total Quacker,” “The Power of Positive Paddling,” “How to Win Friends and Influence Flocks,” “Quack, Pray and Paddle,” “Mallards are from Mars, Loons are from Venus,” “Waddle like a Winner.”
Nothing worked. At his lowest, he even considered plastic surgery to modify his unusually large and pointy beak, razor sharp talons and ungainly wings. He knew he was different and nothing would ever change. No matter what he did, he could never relieve the ache in his heart.
One day, Squirt was feeling especially lonely and blue when suddenly a cacophony of hysterical quacking pierced the peace upon the pond. Soaring overhead was a proud eagle. Like a lightning bolt, the eagle swooped down and cornered the flock of quaking quackers. The king of the sky boldly strutted his way through the huddled mass of fear and feathers, and went straight for Squirt. Grabbing him by the scruff of the neck, he dragged him over to the waters’ edge and thrust his face an inch from the surface. When our young feathery friend opened his eyes he saw two identical faces in the reflection. The world spun.
In a gruff voice, the older eagle shook him and imparted these words: “You’re an eagle just like me, now act like it.” And with that, he flew off.
Do you know what Squirt did? He didn’t get all the other ducks together to tutor them on the superior ways of eagles. He didn’t try to convince, cajole or persuade the ducks to see life as a mystery with infinite possibilities. He didn’t try to find common ground or consensus, because there was none.
Nor did Squirt tell them that all their fussing, drama and striving to get ahead on the duck pond was a complete waste of time. In his heart, he knew they had no interest in life’s possibilities beyond the pond. At best, they might feign interest, but all they really ever wanted was a better spot on the pond. He resolved that he would no longer fight to be a duck. Nor would he fight to convince ducks to be eagles.
In that moment, Squirt straightened up, raised his beak toward the heavens and spread his six-foot wingspan. And then…he just flew away. If any ducks wanted to join him, that was fine; he would welcome them and do what he could to help. However, he would never compromise himself ever again by pretending to be a duck. It served no one, least of all himself. He knew who he was and his first priority would be to be true to his eagle nature. He soared high and far and never looked back, not even once. He was free.