Lessons from a Snail

Most people don’t think much about snails, except to seek their extermination.

Today, let’s take a different look.

To the marine aquarist, snails fulfill an important but seldom considered role. Put simply, snails eat That Which One Prefers Would Not Remain Around. Put more explicitly, snails eat algae, leftover food, and occasionally … poop.

Without them, the environment would quickly deteriorate. The aquarium keeper would have to do much more work. (The shrimp would have to look elsewhere for midnight snacks…)

Yet, beyond restocking to cover the inevitable losses due to death and predation, few aquarium keepers spend much time considering snails. They aren’t flashy, or colorful, or cute. They don’t star in Disney movies. They don’t call attention to themselves.

They just get the job done, and they do it thoroughly and well.

Most of us want to be the lionfish, not the snail. We want to flash our brilliant fins while the adoring world watches, rapt, with its face pressed up against the glass. We want visibility and admiration … we don’t want the janitor’s role.

And yet, most of us spend our days immersed in algae, leftovers and poop. (Or, if we’re lucky, less slimy equivalents thereof.) It occurs to me that we might take a lesson from the snail.

The snail does its job with equanimity. It rises from the sand (or off a rock), does its work, and wanders off again when the job is through. It doesn’t complain or fuss. Granted, the difference in relative mental capacity makes this easier for the snail than for any of us, but each of us still has a choice when it comes to external reactions. We can show our frustration and make the unpleasant jobs equally painful for those around us, or we can tuck our heads, focus, and do the work without (audible) complaint.

I’m not always very good at snail work. I tend to bluster and complain. But last night, watching the snails, it occurred to me that channeling more of that energy into my work (as opposed to the complaining) would probably get me better results and a better attitude too.

So today, I’m letting the lionfish do their thing, and trying harder to work a bit more like the snail. Head down, proboscis up, and focused on the project instead of the process.

Who’s with me? Let’s hear it for the snail.