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#27 - Malay Proverb: The Turtle Lays Thousands of Eggs Without Anyone Knowing, But When the Hen Lays an Egg, The Whole Country Is Informed.
Reflections on the reality that the loudest is not always the most productive.
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Welcome to another edition of Proverbs on Blast newsletter.
In this post, we draw wisdom from the beautiful country of Malaysia. There, the elders used a subtle analogy from the animal kingdom to pierce the bubble of our social-media-saturated world with the Malay proverb: "The turtle lays thousands of eggs without anyone knowing, but when the hen lays an egg, the whole country is informed."
At its core, the proverb is a timely reminder that presents a wise approach to navigating multiple facets of our 21st century lives. Its words offer no explicit warning. However, one could interpret it as a caution against the dangers of seeking constant attention and recognition, and the potential negative consequences of focusing too much on external validation rather than quietly and steadily pursuing one's goals.
Also, the proverb weighs in with commentary on different types of accomplishments over others. It states facts that can help us determine who and what to affirm or commend. Or help us resolve how best to respond to the constant urge to produce or consume an endless stream of content saturating multiple platforms. Perhaps more importantly, the proverb offers encouragement to those who may not feel seen or heard while surrounded by those who are bolder and louder with self-promoting their lesser achievements.
Thus, whether focused on the turtle, the hen, or the lessons that the Malay elders used both to symbolize, the proverb is a powerful statement about the nature of recognition and attention in society. It subtly questions how we handle recognition and attention for others and for ourselves. It forces us to reckon with whether we are more interested in flashy, attention-grabbing achievements than in the quiet and steady progress that comes from hard work and perseverance. After all, we are all familiar with the human reality of some individuals working tirelessly and producing great results, but not receive the recognition they deserve. Sometimes, they have to watch while others who consistently produce comparatively less than them receive more attention and acclaim. By and large, we have become numb to the unfairness and may even unwittingly perpetuate it. This oft-repeated scenario can be discouraging and disabling for many diligent hard workers whose voices are no match for the decibels of the bold, brash, and bullish who underperform or underachieve.
Proverbs are not idle words and the words of this proverb were not intended to be read, said, or written without pondering. So, what are we to take away from the use of the disparate reaction of the hen and the turtle to the same activity? Let’s take a cursory look at the egg-laying abilities of both animals.
Counting Eggs – The Hen
A hen can lay only one egg at a time. However, under certain conditions, it is possible for a hen to lay two eggs in one day, although this is relatively rare. On average, a healthy hen will lay one egg per day, but the number of eggs can vary depending on factors such as age, breed, diet, and environment.
Hens typically begin laying eggs at around 5-6 months of age and will continue to lay eggs for several years, with peak egg production occurring between 1-2 years of age. After that, the number of eggs laid per week will gradually decrease.
The average lifespan of a hen is around 5-10 years, depending on the breed and other factors such as diet, environment, and health care. Over the course of its lifetime, a hen can lay anywhere from 300-400 eggs per year, although this number can vary depending on the factors mentioned above.
Assuming a conservative estimate of 300 eggs per year, a hen could lay around 1,500 to 3,000 eggs over the course of its lifetime. However, keep in mind that egg production tends to decline as hens age, so the number of eggs laid will likely decrease as the hen gets older.
Generally, a hen is constantly clucking and drawing attention to herself, making sure that everyone is aware of her presence. But if you think they are loud, wait for the annoying cackle they make after their once or twice a day accomplishment! They can cackle from anywhere between 1 to 15 minutes after laying an egg.
Counting Eggs – The Turtle
The number of eggs that a turtle can lay in its lifetime can vary depending on the species, size, and age of the turtle, as well as environmental factors such as food availability and habitat quality. For example, some smaller turtle species may lay only a few eggs per year, while larger species such as sea turtles can lay hundreds of eggs in a single nesting season. Some species of turtles may also lay eggs multiple times per year, while others may only lay eggs once per year or every few years.
In general, female turtles can lay anywhere from a few dozen to several hundred eggs over the course of their lifetime, depending on these various factors. Some larger sea turtle species, such as the leatherback turtle, have been known to lay over 1,000 eggs in a single nesting season, while other smaller species may only lay a few dozen eggs per year.
Part I - Can You Find the Turtles?
As stated earlier, the Malay proverb "The turtle lays thousands of eggs without anyone knowing, but when the hen lays an egg, the whole country is informed" does not necessarily offer any explicit warning. It merely states facts about hens and turtles as they play out in every clime and age. The hen is its own PR machine and gets recognized for its every effort, however little. Thus, we can deduce from the proverb a call for assistance to promote the turtle. It does not seek attention, recognition, or external validation but goes about quietly and steadily pursuing its goals. However, its output earns it the recognition and respect that it does not seek.
In your circles, keep these 4 points in mind about FINDING the turtles:
Recognize hidden contributions. The proverb suggests that the turtle's contribution to the world may be overlooked or unnoticed, as it goes about its business of laying eggs quietly and unobtrusively. In like manner, the hidden or less visible contributions of the people around you are no less important. Recognize and promote the value of hard work and persistence in others, even if it goes unnoticed. Especially when it goes unnoticed. Encourage and appreciate those who work diligently and steadfastly towards their goals, and don’t be one of those who dismiss or ignore their contributions. Recognize people for their work. Celebrate their accomplishments. It’d be a win for all.
Promote humility as a virtue. The proverb suggests that the turtle quietly goes about its business of laying eggs without seeking attention or recognition, in contrast to the hen which attracts attention with every egg it lays. While social media has normalized seeking constant recognition or attention, being humble and unassuming are still worthy traits. Hence, encourage individuals to focus on their own progress and growth rather than seeking attention or applause from others. Help others to see the value of quiet determination, hard work, and humility. Help them to make that their primary focus.
Refocus society's attention on meaningful accomplishments. Encourage people to look beyond flashy or attention-grabbing achievements and instead recognize the value of steady, consistent progress towards long-term goals. But don’t just encourage it in others, lead the way by practicing it. Demonstrate it in your spheres of influence. Create an environment of support and encouragement. Provide opportunities for people to share their accomplishments. Seek out the turtles. Highlight their achievements. Celebrate them.
Celebrate the value of diversity in accomplishments. The proverb also leaves room for commending the hen’s one or two eggs a day achievement so don’t use this proverb to rain on her parade. Too bad she fills the air with her own self-praise. The proverb gives a glimpse into why you may not be able to do much about that. However, it also allows you to be more empathetic towards the range of behaviors in egg-laying species. So, use that knowledge to remember to recognize and appreciate the wide range of talents, skills, and contributions that people can make to their communities and society as a whole—hens and turtles alike. Encourage people to celebrate their own achievements. Teach them to seek out and support the achievements of others, no matter how small or large.
Part II - Do You Identify with the Turtle?
Perhaps you identify more with the turtle in the proverb, don't despair. Will you have to learn how to brag about your achievements to get noticed? Will you need to cackle loudly about what you plan to do, are doing, or have done to get recognition? Maybe you’ve had enough and feel as though you need to reduce your output to not feel ignored? The hen can’t help itself but must open its mouth wide and cackle about its one egg a day accomplishment. Rather than feel bad about the hen getting all the attention or moan about being overlooked, why not just stay motivated and focused on your own goals? There’s a lot packed into your identity as a multiple egg-laying being, so don’t get distracted or discouraged by the public service announcements of the less achieving neighbor of yours who won’t stop cackling.
Keep these 5 things in mind about BEING the turtle:
Keep going. Just like the turtle lays thousands of eggs over the course of its lifetime, your efforts will add up over time and can make a difference. Even if it feels like no one is noticing right now, your hard work and dedication can pay off in the long run. Stay focused. Stay productive.
Believe in yourself. It can be discouraging when your efforts are not recognized or appreciated by others, but don't let that shake your confidence in your own abilities and value. Your contributions are important, and your work matters more than you think even if others don't see it yet.
Stay true to your values. The turtle lays eggs quietly and steadily, without seeking attention or recognition, and you too can continue to work toward your goals and values without becoming distracted by external validation. Stay focused on what matters to you, and trust that your efforts will be recognized in due time.
Seek support. It can be lonely and discouraging to feel like your efforts are going unnoticed, but remember that you are not alone. Seek out support from friends, family, or colleagues who understand and appreciate your work, and who can offer encouragement and validation when you need it.
Celebrate your successes. Even if your successes are not being celebrated by others, it's important to take time to acknowledge and celebrate them yourself. Whether it's a small accomplishment or a major milestone, be proud of what you have achieved and know that your efforts are making a difference.
In today's world, where social media and instant gratification have become the norm, it’s easy to let online noise and applause downplay or obscure the importance and roles of perseverance, humility, and recognition. But work hard and persevere in your efforts, even if they go unnoticed. You are valuable. You matter. And your contributions matter.
The need for external validation and applause can suck life and vitality from you, your dreams, and your efforts. Turtles lay eggs quietly and buried in the sand to protect from predators. But no one becomes aware of the egg-laying capabilities and egg count of the turtle can stay impressed with those of the chicken who makes more noise than it produces eggs. External validation are not a measure of your worth. Rather than seek recognition, keep being you. Recognition will find you.
"The turtle lays thousands of eggs without anyone knowing, but when the hen lays an egg, the whole country is informed" You can’t stop the hen from getting on her soapbox and cackling loud and long. But you can remember that every effort counts, and that perseverance and hard work will pay off in the end. Yours can too.
Again, you matter, even in the quiet obscurity of buried or unrecognized efforts. Time cannot efface your contributions. Keep working hard, quietly, and steadily to lay as many eggs as you can whether or not they attract attention and recognition. With time, your immense contributions will be unearthed.
How can you stay motivated and focused on the pursuit of your most pressing goal without recognition or applause?
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