I love this photograph.
It was taken by George Steinmetz for National Geographic. The photo was taken from the perspective of directly overhead. It’s very easy to allow your eyes to become focused on the black shapes as they move across the sand dunes.
But look closer.
The black shapes are actually the shadows of the camels, not the camels themselves. Look closer and you’ll see the that the camels in the photos are actually the lighter colored shapes directly below each shadow.
The shadows might be easier to see, but that doesn’t mean that they are reality. In most cases, you have to look closer to see the real thing.
Both great success and great failure tend to attract all the attention, especially in this day of half-hour news cycles, Twitter tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts. You strike it rich, make it big, lighting strikes and BOOM, you are a star, the center of attention. You’ve finally made it…at least until something else comes along to distract the masses from gawking at your shadow.
In the same way, you fail. You implode dramatically and publicly and your sins are plastered on every wall you see, in plain view. You can taste your failure like ashes in your mouth. You are shamed and for the time being you are everyone’s version of what it means to fail. At least until something else comes along to distract the masses from gawking at your shadow.
Shadows might be intriguing but they are not reality. They are only a momentary representation of what was real…at one moment in time.
I’ve failed utterly in my lifetime. When I was at my lowest, my absolute lowest, a great friend, took my be the shoulders, lifted my chin and looked me in the eye. He told me, “THIS WILL NOT DEFINE YOU!”
In the same way, your shadow does not define you. You are an individual with depth and color. You are a fascinating person with layers upon layers of intricate detail. How dare you (or anyone else) think of you in a simple colorless 2-dimensional way.
Neither success or failure are overnight. You obtain either step by step. And neither qualify as a destination. Your life doesn’t end just because you fail…nor does it end just because you succeed.
Whether you are looking at yourself or others, realize that life is more than the fleeting shadow on the dune. Life is real. Life is daily. And life is full of both success and failure.
Good or bad, you are not your shadow. You are so much more.