Last week I was in Los Angeles, California. My kids had made me promise to bring home some seashells, so at the end of the week I made it to the beach and began my search.

I was soon dissatisfied with the meager offering of common, broken, picked-over shells available on the mostly-deserted shoreline. I realized that if I wanted the good shells, I would have to get wet.

Fortunately, I’d come prepared, having worn a suit under my t-shirt and sweats. But it was 50 degrees and overcast, and would be dark soon. All the other shell-seekers were sticking to the dry sand.

But I was committed. So I stripped down to my suit and waded in, ignoring the cold and clenching my teeth.

I then had an experience I’ll always remember.

There I was, wading around in the cold ocean, with one eye peering into the darkening water, searching for a shell worthy of going in after, and the other eye watching so the next wave wouldn’t take me unawares.

It was very frustrating. You only have about five seconds between waves. At least half of that is waiting for the sand and bubbles to clear enough to see, and only maybe one second where the shells are totally still.

In that very small window of opportunity, you’ve got to see and recognize a worthy shell, plunge your arm in and grab it. But so often, you just get a worthwhile shell spotted, and suddenly it’s washed away when the next wave hits, splashing cold water all over you.

If you didn’t act fast, the shell was gone.

There was one time I spotted a a rare shell. It was different than all the other shells, about four inches in diameter, with real depth. Just as I spotted it, the prior wave was washing back out to sea and it disappeared from view, the water clouded over with sand and a bombardment of shells and small rocks. Going on nothing but hope and a memory of its location, I plunged my hand in where I thought it would be, and to my delight, found myself pulling it out of the water.

Being a life engineer, I couldn’t help but appreciate the analogy.

In life, we’re surrounded by opportunity. The really good opportunities often require us to leave the safety of the shoreline, to leave the pack, to go where other people don’t dare go. They require you to invest yourself, endure the cold, and risk a little.

Out here, opportunities don’t sit and wait very long. In fact, sometimes it’s darn near impossible to catch one in time. Often, you’ll no sooner spot one worth pursuing than it’s washed away. You have to act fast. You have to be prepared to move, and move quickly. You have to be prepared to get wet.

Sometimes you’ll see something worth going after, and you just have to plunge yourself in after it, even after the clarity of the moment is gone, and forge ahead more on faith and intuition than anything else. Sometimes you’ll come up empty handed. But sometimes you won’t.

The only thing you can do is try. And that’s half the fun. The other half is when you get your shell.


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