The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Anderson is one of my favourite fairy tales. To me it is a story of hope, dreams and aspirations. I was recently reading the story to my toddler and as I read, it dawned on me how relevant the story really is to all of us and how many of our lives are shaped by similar experiences. Here is my interpretation of the story.
A mother duck is incubating her eggs. One by one the eggs hatch except the biggest egg which takes a really long time. The mother duck gets impatient wondering why the last egg is taking so long. The last egg finally hatches but the duckling is different. All of the other ducklings are yellow and pretty but the last one is ugly, large and grey. The other ducklings point and whisper because he is different. The new hatchling wants to be accepted and loved by his siblings but they shun him because he is not like them. The ugly duckling feels sad and lonely because he doesn’t know what to do.
All of us are born with our own uniqueness but from the time we get some level of cognition the world around us tells us how we “should ” be. We try to fit in with the others and be like them;even when we are not. Often family and society instill in us that to be accepted we need to be like others and do what others do. When we don’t (or can’t) either others shun us or we feel miserable about ourselves.
What is the hardest thing that you have done to fit in even when it does not align with who you are at your core?
The next day mother duck takes all her little ducks to the river to teach them to swim. She jumps in and all her baby ducks follow. The big ugly duckling jumps in too. They all swim and play together. The ugly duckling swims better than all the other ducklings. But the others point and whisper because he doesn’t do it like them. So the ugly duckling jumps out and sits alone feeling sad.
There are times we feel the need to hide our strengths or underplay them so that others don’t take offense. Sheryl Sandburg in her book “Lean In” talks about how little girls refrain from leadership in school because they don’t want to be called bossy. When we are not able to live by the standards that others set for us we often buy into the assumption that there is something wrong with us. We let others convince us that to be like them is the only way to be.
What is the one strength that you avoid acknowledging because it makes you different from how others want you to be?
Back at the farm the little duckling is left to fend for himself by the mother duck and his siblings. The cat and rooster chase after him and pick on him. He is frightened and hides in the barn so that no one can see him.
Being yourself can be a lonely place. Social conventions, fear, loneliness and frustration will often attack you.
Have you ever stayed with something you dislike because leaving it would mean stepping out of convention and into loneliness?
One day the duckling sees some beautiful swans in the pond and is awed by their beauty. He wistfully thinks”If only I could be like them”
When we see someone successful we often assume that we cannot be like them. Sometimes we also disregard that most successful people start small and build their success one day at a time. And many of them were once where we are today.
Who is the one person you admire for their success? What got them there?
The poor ugly duckling is so unhappy that one day he runs away and hides in a marshy pond through the winter. He is cold hungry and frightened. At last spring comes once again. The sun shines warmly. Everything is fresh and green. One morning the ugly duckling sees the beautiful swans again. He knows them. He wants so much to swim with them in the river. But he is afraid of them. There in the reflection of the water he sees a beautiful swan. It is he! He is no more an ugly duckling. He is a beautiful white swan.
To get to the best version of ourselves we have to work through the fear, beliefs and blocks that hold us back. And when we do that we may discover the swan we were always meant to be. The ugly duckling keeps searching inspite of his fear and lonliness for a way out of his misery till he finds who he is meant to be.
What is the best, most powerful and most resourceful version of you? And what is the ugly duckling story that holds you back from getting there?