January 11, 2013 | by Kevin M. Norris
The year of the gerbil

I vowed I was not going to write this column about New Year’s resolutions, so instead I’m telling you about my upcoming “year of the gerbil.”

I started coming up with names for each year a few years back. Last year was the “year of the juggler” because I juggled too many projects and dropped more of them that I wanted to. This year is the “year of the gerbil” and living the life of a gerbil.

You see gerbils are fascinating little creatures and are beginning to teach me a lot about myself as of late. I grew up raising gerbils, though I don’t currently have any. In fact, this notion of the gerbil wheel just seemed to pop into my head one day recently out of nowhere so I decided to run with it. Here is what the gerbil wheel and gerbils are teaching me.

1. The faster you go, the faster you go nowhere

2. The gerbil wheel is never off balance and it is always true — it’s the gerbil operating the wheel that can get off balance. They actually look a little drunk at times.

3. No matter how frantically they peddle, gerbils are always happy, smiling widely and showing off their two front buck teeth. Have you ever seen an unhappy gerbil?

4. Gerbils can slow down or speed up the wheel anytime they want

5. The wheel does not control a gerbil; the gerbil controls the wheel

5. Gerbils can get off the wheel whenever they choose

6. Gerbils own the wheel, the wheel does not own them

All in all the gerbil wheel is a double-edged sword and of late, I thought of my new metaphor for living as detrimental and not serving any purpose. I viewed my time spent on the gerbil wheel as akin to spinning my wheels and not getting anywhere. It also conjured up this frantic, unfocused state in me that made me feel scattered and unproductive. This was a bit alarming to me because I pride myself on being very focused and productive, two professional traits that have been crucial to my business success.

Regardless of how unsettling the gerbil wheel felt, I kept going on the wheel as if I had not learned my lesson and there was more to discover. Nonetheless, if there was another lesson to be learned or some obscure benefit to being on this gerbil wheel I was not seeing it. I just kept spinning and spinning and I was not smiling. I had become the world’s first unhappy gerbil. What could I do? As far as I was concerned I had two choices: I could vanquish the gerbil wheel or I could discover what part of the gerbil wheel, if any, was working for me and embrace those parts.

I found myself starting and not finishing more projects this year than I can recollect in past years and the projects I did complete were not my best work. Now don’t get me wrong — I achieved boat loads this year and there was a definitive transformation in me and measurable successes to celebrate. But that damn gerbil wheel also haunted me and I could not get it out of mind. It made me think, “Maybe there is a positive side or message in the wheel metaphor that I am not seeing.”

Then about a month ago I had an epiphany and realized that there were many things about the gerbil wheel that I liked and several things about it that I could make work for me rather than against me. I embraced my inner gerbil wheel and boy, I’ll tell you this embrace has been revelatory. The gerbil wheel is no longer the thorn in my side. In fact it’s my new best friend. I adore my gerbil wheel.

I get up every morning drink from my water bottle, eat some gerbil food and hop right on my gerbil wheel. I have learned to start spinning the wheel slowly and to have more trust in the wheel. I have also learned to mitigate the speed and control of the wheel much better. Now I control the wheel instead of the wheel controlling me and when I start to feel out of control, I jump off the wheel (after I slow it down of course) scurry around my apartment for a minute or two to slow the juices down, eat some cardboard and then curl up in a tiny ball to replenish only to do it all over again when I feel refreshed.

So I start 2013 with the gerbil wheel by my side allowing the life of a gerbil to play to my strengths rather than pull from my weaknesses.

What is your metaphor for living this year?

1 Comment
  • Lol!! What a fun read Kevin, and a great metaphor for life! I’m going to practice taming the gerbil this year as well.

    I’m thinking my metaphor this year is going to be the same as in the past few years (not many points for originality I know..) and that metaphor is a take from Eastern Philosophy..being like water in a moving river. Always flowing, if just a little bit, so as to prevent stagnation and from going bad, sometimes slowing down to reflect and swirl through some thoughts, other times picking up speed, and energy, without trying to spill/lose any water that splashes ashore and gets forgotten. All the while moving forward, because water can’t go backwards, just as humans can’t make progress while going or looking backwards.

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