I really like coyotes. They’re tough, adaptable and always themselves, without concern for what anyone else—especially any so-called civilized human being—thinks of them. They’re original, authentic, proud, and expressive. And they can also teach us a lot about being successful in this world.
Where I live, in southeastern Arizona, coyotes are common. I see them often and hear them at night too, joining in one of those impromptu choral gatherings that has won them the nickname of The Song Dog. Like foxes in Europe, coyotes have learned that there are richer pickings to be found around people’s homes than out in the desert. So they live in the arroyos between our homes and on the lush golf courses, set down in the desert by courtesy of many millions of dollars and a year-round supply of recycled water. We’ve stolen their habitat for our master planned communities and malls, so they’ve moved in with us and stolen ours.
Of course, sometimes they’re bad as well. Round here, they have a regrettable tendency to eat people’s small pets (as do our resident bobcats). In Native American lore, Coyote is a sort of deity, but one who is tricky and liable to mess you up if you don’t watch him very closely. But, hey, these singing dogs are also playful and spontaneous, and—best of all—they’re never dull.
I said that those coyotes can teach us something.
The first coyote lesson is to take a few risks. Now there’s nothing wrong with having a serious purpose in life—even some perfectly pleasant people have one—but too much seriousness and playing by the rules does tend to block any willingness to adapt. What’s made the coyote so successful is adaptability. These coyote guys are realists. Their motto seems to be: “If you can’t change it, exploit it.”
Besides, it’s conventional thinking that has gotten us where we are today. It may have produced some benefits, but it’s produced some really massive problems too. We won’t solve those problems by using the same approaches that created them in the first place. Nor will conventional thinking produce many new ideas, especially if it’s been worked to death by everyone from marketing gurus to media hacks.
Take some risks. Try something new. The coyotes have tried living among people and it’s working for them. The ones I see around town are sleek and well fed. Some I see out in the desert look pretty scruffy in comparison.
Have some fun. Sometimes those little coyote boogers wake me up in the middle of the night having a riotous party somewhere in the wash behind my house. Lots of singing and probably a few beers. They really know how to have fun.
Corporate America has lost that skill. Most companies aren’t fun to work for. It’s all so damn stressful and heavy. Yet fun is the best source of creativity. Stamp it out and innovation goes along with it.
All intelligent forms of life play. Coyotes seem to play more than most, especially with their cubs. Play is the very best forum for learning and getting new ideas. As children, we play to learn about life and how to deal with it. As adults, we attend training courses instead and sit there, often bored and usually passive, listening to some guru telling us how to behave.
Who would you rather listen to? A guy in a suit or a singing dog under a wild moon? Would you rather attend a lecture, or have some fun playing around with a few ideas?
Always be yourself. Heck, it’s tough to be anyone else, but some of us spend a lifetime trying. As Shania Twain says in her song, “That don’t impress me much.” It don’t impress anyone else much either. You are who you are and you won’t change that. You don’t need to. Just be the best version of who you are and you’ll be fine. You’ll also be authentic instead of a fake.
It’s okay to be bad sometimes too. Not nasty and vicious, or downright evil, but just a little mischievous and rough around the edges. Who would you trust more? Some person you know is inclined to be a little tricky on occasions, or a city slicker who pretends to be so-o-o honest, but would stab you in the back as soon as look at you?
When I was young in England, the really interesting girls were usually described as “no better than she should be.” That sounds about right to me. Why should anyone be better that they should be, except to create a false image to cover something worse?
Here’s to being just as good as we need to be . . . and not even one tiny bit more!
As this new year starts, spare a thought for forgetting all the serious stuff and enjoying the life that you have. You won’t get another one, so you might as well make the most of what’s there today. Let my friend Coyote be your guide: smart, cunning, adaptable, fun-loving, tricky, playful, creative, and always ready to take a few risks. He’s not respectable and he’s certainly not conventional . . . but he usually has the last laugh.
Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. His new book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization
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