Neither seeing nor hearing any birds nearby, I pulled the branches back so that I could peer into the nest and saw four bright blue-green eggs about half the size of my thumb. Three were perfect, while the fourth had an irregular hole in the top, appearing to have been pecked.
What a shame, I thought. The mother bird abandoned the nest after all that work, leaving three of the four eggs that could have hatched into babies. How short-sighted!
Last night I googled robins and learned that the birds abandon a nest when it is disturbed by a predator, as appears to be the case with this one. Likely another bird – a crow or blue jay – had a snack. According to Journey North, robins only abandon their eggs when “something happens that tells the robins they will have a poor chance of success.” The threat of a predator bird hanging around to finish off the other three when she took a break would be plenty of reason to think that she would have a poor chance of success with that batch of eggs.
So the robins taught me a few things about making decisions.
Don’t be afraid to take risks, but have a Plan B. Robins often build a bunch of nests,sometimes laying an egg in several of them, before settling into the best nest where they will incubate their eggs and raise their babies to adulthood. If something disturbs their preferred nest, they’ll go to a secondary nest and start over. Sounds like a good plan to me.
Be willing to sacrifice in the short-term – sometimes painfully – to win in the long-term. While I thought it seemed a waste of resources to abandon what looked to be three perfectly good eggs in an elaborate nest that the birds had labored hard to build (I can’t imagine carrying all those twigs, one at a time, much less constructing something sturdy and useful out of them), they knew it was best to move on and start over some place else. They cut their loses. Tenacity is a good thing; refusing to leave the roof during a flood when the rescue helicopter shows up is folly.
And finally, I learned that robins trust their innate robins’ sense. They don’t dither about, doing charts and graphs and P&L statements, they just know what they know, and they trust it with all their robin hearts. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink, he writes about “rapid cognition,” a quick way of thinking that is similar to intuition, though he doesn’t like that word:
“We live in a society dedicated to the idea that we’re always better off gathering as much information and spending as much time as possible in deliberation. As children, this lesson is drummed into us again and again: haste makes waste, look before you leap, stop and think. But I don’t think this is true. There are lots of situations – particularly at times of high pressure and stress – when haste does not make waste, when our snap judgments and first impressions offer a much better means of making sense of the world.”
So whether you call it rapid cognition or intuition, there’s a case to be made for having an “inner knowing,” much like animals have instincts, if we listen to them and don’t let our overly analytical brains talk us out of what we know is true. AsGladwell says, we need to pay attention to the small fleeting thoughts in the moments when they bubble up:
“I think that if we did, it would change the way wars are fought, the kind of products we see on the shelves, the kinds of movies that get made, the way police officers are trained, the way couples are counseled, the way job interviews are conducted and on and on–and if you combine all those little changes together you end up with a different and happier world.”
Whether we are deciding on who to marry, how to market our business or whether to sit on some eggs for a while longer, we are unlikely to make the same decision that someone else would have made. Each of us brings a different perspective, and there is usually more than one right – or one wrong answer. We just have to make the best decision we can at the time with the information we can reasonably gather and a certain amount of intuition, then adjust the plan as we go based on outcome and move on.
Just as you have to break some eggs to make an omelet, sometimes you have to break preconceived notions before you make good decisions.