An old man observed the boy throwing starfish back into the ocean.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m saving these starfish,” answered the boy without stopping.
Surprised, the old man said, “But there are too many! And there’s only one of you. What difference can you make?”
The boy picked up another starfish and tossed it into the ocean.
“I made a difference for that one,” he replied.
This parable was originally adapted from “The Star Thrower” (or “starfish story”), an essay by Loren Eiseley published in 1969 in “The Unexpected Universe.” Its message is utilized frequently by many motivational speakers. Personally, it is one of my favorite mantras to live by: If it makes a difference to one person or being, then it is worth doing. One of my best friends even gave me a bracelet with a small starfish charm. It’s a talisman that is always a simple reminder that touching just one life makes anything worth the effort.
In this global time of influencers, movers and shakers, I often find myself feeling as if I am not enough, not doing enough or not making enough of an impact. After all, it is a world of abundance, always striving for more reach, high-touch. I could always have more impact, more followers, more connections, more likes. I continually find myself with a mental struggle over this mindset. Society says reach and broaden, but is it settling for less if I step back from that and embrace the starfish theory?
I was recently in Colorado hiking at Mt. Evans, one of the local 14ers at 14,264 feet. My friend, Jen, was going crazy wanting to see a marmot.
“There’s one!” I shouted.
“Here’s another one,” another friend exclaimed.
Our pursuit became continuous joyful shrieks of findings, one marmot discovered after another. Yet, Jen wasn’t seeing any of them. Instead, she saw amazing vistas, mountains, rock formations and ranges. Her vision was the big picture, awe-encompassing; ours was singular, focused and precise. Neither was wrong or incorrect, but each of us had our sights on different views.
Our pursuit reminded me of the Highlights kids magazine picture-within-a-picture game. There was the big picture, but then the smaller image hidden within it. My dad used to tell me when we were in the wilderness together looking for wildlife that “I couldn’t find the forest for the trees.” Just like this saying, my friend Jen was totally tuned into the larger scope and not the smaller details.
When training for my second full Ironman, I sought out all that I could to find better success than my maiden voyage. That first time — a grueling course in St. George, Utah’s inaugural event — had been rough. The killer elevation and the beyond frigid waters surprisingly weren’t my demise as much as my unresolved nutrition protocol was. That imbalance left me in the most scenic porta-potties I’ve ever had the opportunity to camp out in for the duration of tummy trouble.
Even after all of that, while I was hiking through Zion the day after the event, I vowed to enter another Ironman. I knew I could do better with a proper nutrition plan and thus have better finish line results.
So I hired an amazing coach and mentor, Kelly Williamson, whom I not only admired but also knew had a similar work ethic, body mechanics and mindset as me. Kelly was fabulous; she gave me a great strategy on my running, cycling, swimming and nutrition training. Those were the individual puzzle pieces to make it all come together and happen. But it was her overall advice and mental awareness that wove it all together for me.
To this day, my most favorite and highly utilized wisdom continues to be “Stay 3D,” meaning keep your sights three-dimensional. Don’t get so locked and focused on the task at hand, the road surface in front of you, your front bike tire for all 112 miles or your every step of 26.2. Don’t just see the big picture and bear down on the overall goal. But instead, take each moment in, see all of your surroundings, notice the details. You’re not racing for cash, and you’re not racing for a career. You’re racing for an experience and to do your best. Yes, you want to slay it, but a full Ironman is a long day. Once you slip into 2D, or gosh forbid, 1D, you’re typically in a zone that fogs out the smaller details of the journey. You’ll be missing the true experience.
With all of the Ironman events I continued to compete in, aside from the discipline and training I prepped with, I made it just as important to race with mental “3D” discipline. Look the volunteers in the eyes. Tell them thank you. Smile at the spectators, friends and family. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Appreciate the trees, hills, mountains, oceans, flowers and environment. Most Ironman events take place in amazingly gorgeous locations. Take it all in. Stay three-dimensional, visually and mentally.
Touching lives is very similar. With today’s technology, it is so easy to slip into a one-dimensional, global form of communication and connectivity. However, staying three-dimensional, looking outside the normal realms, looking between the gaps, within the bigger picture, is truly what exudes the human aspect of life. It is difficult to “think small” when the big picture of life is scrolling so fast, but, as another parable alludes to, “The gift can be in the details.”
As with my friend on the lookout for marmots in the boulder fields of Colorado, it sometimes can be easier to see an entire forest and not just a single tree. Connection with individuals can often be the same. It can be simpler to find mass forms of communication versus taking the time to be intentional about touching individual lives. However, as with the starfish theory, to that one, it can matter.
About the Author
Cindy is a native Austinite with a lifelong pursuit of providing experiences to individuals that positively affect mind, body, and spiritual fitness. She is director of fitness and water Sports at Lake Austin Spa Resort, co-founder of Operation Get Out and Get Out Girl and an ambassador of Blue Mind Life. Cindy has a full resume of podium results in Ironman full and half distances, Xterra, marathons, paddleboarding, waterskiing and adventure racing.