"Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way to fly."
Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a story of looking inside yourself to grow into who you are. It’s a fun short read about a seagull that is cast out from his flock for focusing too much on learning to fly faster and better. Most seagulls only fly to live, but Jonathan thinks they should live to fly and fly better and better.
The book is broken into three parts. Part One talks about Jonathan’s life with the Flock, how he is cast out to live alone among the far cliffs, and how he teaches himself to fly. In Part Two Jonathan goes on to another life where he finds birds that are eager to learn, just like him. In Part Three, Jonathan returns to earth to teach birds from his old flock how to break conformity and learn to fly.
The book has a religious undertone to it, but not for a single religion. It makes reference to heaven and other lives, but it also has a Zen quality, urging readers (and seagulls) to find peace within themselves through personal growth.
The Big Idea
Eliminate fear, boredom and anger
"Jonathan Seagull discovered that boredom and fear and anger are the reasons that a gull’s life is so short, and with these gone from his thought, he lived a long fine life indeed."
The story of Jonathan reminds me of the millions of people around the world that have trouble appreciating life and living it to the fullest. It’s easy in a country of luxury and abundance to find yourself in a rut of the day-to-day activities and more and more challenging to appreciate what you have. It’s common for people to be angry about their circumstances or just accept their station in life. And it’s no surprise that many people want some sort of change but fear making a move for something better or different.
When Jonathan was cast out of his flock, he was no longer in danger of getting stuck in the day-to-day boring life that he saw the other gulls living. He had no fears and he chose to live a life where he challenged himself, and thus was never bored even though he was a solitary bird.
The best lesson that I can learn and possibly the hardest one to put into practice, will be to eliminate fear, boredom, and anger from my life as much as possible. Jonathan found the freedom to let go.
You are your own teacher
"You don’t need me any longer. You need to keep finding yourself, a little more each day, that real, unlimited Fletcher Seagull. He’s your instructor. You need to understand him and to practice him."
When Jonathan came back to earth, he helped many gulls who had been like him break from the conformity of the flock. They came to depend on him to lead them but there are two lessons we can learn from Jonathan about leadership. Many people need a kick start from a leader for guidance and a nudge to get out there and take the first steps. The first lesson is to lead and encourage others to make the move to do something different. The second lesson is to give them ownership of where they are going. As Jonathan does with Fletcher Seagull, once they have started they can be their own leaders, their own teachers, and they can grow themselves and others. It’s important to give them those nudges.
I’ve spent much of my career in sales and recruiting getting people started with nudges and then guiding them once they have started their own journey. I’m in a new role where I don’t get the same natural space to be a leader so, like Jonathan, I’ll have to look for a place to go (or return to) to stretch my leadership wings once again.
Finding your tribe
"There was as much to learn about flight in this place as there had been in the life left behind him. But with a difference. Here were gulls who thought as he thought."
During Jonathan’s time as an outcast, he is totally alone. He teaches himself to fly better and faster through trial and error. Once he’s learned all he can teach himself, two birds come to take him higher and he moves on to his next life where he finds birds like him and discovers that there is even more to learn about flying.
We all long for others that we can identify with. Some people seem to fit in everywhere they go and some people have trouble finding a tribe they can truly feel comfortable with. When I’ve made transitions in my life (moving to a new city, changing jobs or roles, graduating), I’ve most appreciated finding a new group of people that are like me in my new space. There’s a comfort in being confident in who you are and finding others that can identify with you, accept you, and challenge you in the ways you need to be challenged to grow.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a story about breaking out of conformity for the sake of conforming. It’s about finding freedom from routine and finding the teacher within you. Ultimately, you have the power to live the life you want to live. So fly higher, fly faster, and live longer.