I have a poster of a penguin in my room here at University of Delaware. Admittedly, I got this poster because I love penguins. However, the more I study it, the more I wonder about its significance. The poster displays snapshots, from the side, of a penguin on his journey to the edge of the iceberg: starting at a standstill, accelerating, then coming to a stop right before jumping into the Antarctic water. It puzzles me to this day why he doesn’t just jump in. Isn’t that what penguins do? I’ve watched enough of Disney’s Happy Feet to know that penguins love swimming, especially diving. So what’s the problem? Is he afraid? Does he not know how to navigate the waters? Or is this poster symbolic of a greater, more philosophical conversation?
Stimulated by the mystery, I asked my friends for their opinion on the matter. Interestingly, everyone had different interpretations. One of my friends said that, in fact, each “snapshot” was a different penguin, and the one at the end was chickening-out of a group plunge. Others claimed it represented each stage of life–from birth to the periphery of death.
Personally, I saw doubt in this penguin. He’s not a baby, so knows how to swim, and I’m assuming he lives near the iceberg, so he should feel comfortable with navigation. Nevertheless, he holds back. He had so much hope in the first few snapshots–pushing off, each step larger than the last. But at some point along the way, a mass of uncertainty infected his motivation.
The sad thing is that I see myself in the penguin. Occasionally, I set a goal, work diligently at it for a few weeks–maybe a month–and then lose commitment. For example, in high school, I decided I wanted to give a speech about subconscious racism to my peers and the general public. I got permission from a professor, gathered the data, and put together a slideshow, but the moment I felt resistance from the superintendent, I gave up. I gave up because I thought the idea was too big for me, too big for a seventeen-year-old kid.
If there’s one thing that the penguin poster has taught me, it’s to get rid of self-doubt. It’s important to take all the chances you get, particularly in college. If you know you can do something, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t accomplish it. Letting false uncertainty hold you back will only result in regret. As William Shakespeare once said: “Our doubts are traitors/and make us lose the good we oft might win/by fearing to attempt.”