This weekend, I was fortunate to be invited to spend the weekend with a dozen other bloggers from around Texas, plus one token New York goddess, for a sleepover at SeaWorld San Antonio.
I mean, these were brilliant, beautiful, accomplished women. I am still befuddled as to why I was invited. Maybe SeaWorld’s teacher had a rule that you have to invite all the kids in the class, even the awkward one. But you know, despite my fifth-grade experience, I was not about to pass up a chance to sleep at SeaWorld. So I didn’t question.
Lesson 1: Sometimes, You Have to Fake It
Our first stop on the SeaWorld private tour was the aquarium with its amazing coral reef display. One of the other bloggers asked our camp counselor, Chance, if the coral reefs themselves were live coral.
Chance, who by the way is working on his Ph-flipping-D, explained that, taking that much live coral from the wild would be devastating to the environment. So SeaWorld fakes it for the big tank, and has a few small aquariums with real coral. They also send scientists to coral reefs use their aquarium research to combat reef bleaching in the wild.
My lesson? Whether it’s telling someone who gave you the weirdest gift in history that you LOVE it, or making a coral reef from artificial materials, sometimes faking it is the gentlest choice.
Lesson 2: If You’re Going to Swim With Sharks, Make Sure They Aren’t Hungry
Of course, when we got to the sharks, we had another crucial question for Chance. “Why don’t the sharks eat the fish swimming around with them?” Despite their fierce reputation, turns out sharks are pretty lazy. Chance’s “I almost have a PhD” answer was worded fancier. He said “sharks are opportunistic predators.” They figure out they’re going to eat regularly, and they stop murdering their aquarium-mates.
If you don’t see a life lesson for this, you’ve never had a job. Seriously. Keep your boss updated, do your work on time and be productive, convince them that “Fish are friends, not food,” and they won’t bite your head off.
Lesson 3: Sometimes, The Opposite Sex Is More Trouble Than They’re Worth
We learned from trainers in the Sea Lion and Harbor Seal exhibit that only the male sea lions get to be in the shows. Not because SeaWorld is a sexist operation, but because male sea lions are way bigger and look more impressive on stage. Also, if they had girl sea lions in the show tank during mating season, the boy sea lions would just fight with each other and chase the girl sea lions around.
Then, the little otter and the walrus would have to do the whole show by themselves.
So, you know, there’s a reason Human Resources discourages inter-office dating. It starts with sharing a mackerel and the next thing you know, the otter and walrus are talking about you, and resenting your three-hour lunches where you come back with your hair all messed up. If you’re going to do it, be cooler than a sea lion.
Lesson 4: Sometimes, What We Don’t Have Is A Blessing
One of the most captivating stops on our trip was backstage with the beluga whales, who were so amazing and adorable that all 13 of the bloggers on the trip basically just squealed and took pictures and ignored Chance while he tried to educate us. Sorry about that. Did I mention Chance is about to get a PhD? In patience, apparently.
But between squeals, I did learn that belugas, unlike most of the whale family, have no dorsal fin. That’s because they spend a lot of time swimming under arctic ice sheets, and fins on their backs would be a liability.
I believe in a Master Designer, who knew fins and ice sheets don’t mix. I believe, too, that sometimes He doesn’t give me what it seems like everyone else has, because He doesn’t want me to be like everyone else.
I wish, sometimes fiercely, that our daughter had been born with both sides of her heart developed. But I have seen purpose in what we weren’t given, gained perspective and faith that lets me move under the ice of uncertainty without getting battered.
Lesson 5: If Mama Ain’t Happy…
Orcas, Killer Whales, the fiercest predators in the ocean? They are a matriarchal society. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
We learned that if the oldest female in the pod at SeaWorld sets the rules. If she decides the show is not happening, it doesn’t happen. You can’t *make* a 9-ton animal with 56 sharp teeth do anything.
The alpha woman killer whale also decides who fits in the pod, and who doesn’t. Sometimes whales have to go to a whole new park if she doesn’t bestow favor.
I’ve noticed my house works this way, too. If I am stressed out and snappy all morning, pretty soon the little orcas are biting each other’s heads off. If I get on one kid’s case in front of the other, we get a case of sibling piling-on. If I want the show around here to go on as scheduled, I gotta be jumping for mackerel like my life depended on it.
Even if you’re not an orca, or a mom, that principle works in business, too. If you’re in a position of power, use it for good. Sure, you can bully people into heading to another park. But you can choose to use your influence to include and build up.
Lesson 6: If You Can Get Excited About The Mundane, People Will Love You
Our final stop at SeaWorld before heading home was a chance to feed the dolphins. As soon as they saw their trainer, they started flipping like crazy, leaping out of the water, swimming up to greet us, chirping and clicking and I swear, even smiling.
All this excitement, and over what? The fish they get every freaking day.
I tell you, though, that they were my absolute favorite animals of the trip. From the squeals and laughter and camera-clicking going on, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Their enthusiasm was contagious.
No one said “no thanks, I’ll just sit over here and check my email.” Even moms who were a little nervous about those dolphin teeth were grabbing those slimy dead fish faster than swag bags at BlogHer. Because those dolphins were working it.
News flash: A smile and some enthusiasm gets the same response for people. Don’t fake it and get annoying, but find a reason to be happy and treat people like you’re glad to see them, even when holy mackerel, you’ve seen these fish before.
Special thanks to SeaWorld San Antonio for the invitation. They’ve got a cool behind-the-scenes blog worth checking out. And Erica, Kelly, Joy, Heather, Dwan, Colleen, Debi, Rachel, Julie, Emily, and Kami, it was an honor to spend the weekend with you. I’ve got more to say on the experience of being gifted with such talented and creative friends, but that’s a post for another day.