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Dust on a Blade of Grass: A Life Lesson Learned on Safari

Your purpose may not always be immediately clear to you, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find. If you’re grappling with what you’re meant to do in life, or unsure of your next steps, I want to share a story with you. One that reminded me of the most important question any of us can ask on our journey to discover our purpose.

A group of ten of us, including myself, joined author and life coach Martha Beck in Londolozi, South Africa last week. It was a safari retreat, taking us into the wilds of the country to see animals in their most comfortable habitat.

Here's me, safely in the Land Rover, with a rhino in the background (not the same rhino we tracked).

One afternoon, 5 of us were taken into the bush to learn the art of animal tracking with the help of three trackers: Sehrsant, Andrea, and Boyd.

As we came to a stop, the trackers stepped out of the Land Rover to teach us about how to find the shape and size of a rhino track. How to position ourselves to avoid the sun blocking our view of the track. How partial tracks can provide clues as to the animal’s movement and direction. Even how to observe blades of grass for signs of disturbance, what dust on a blade of grass meant.

They told us about how tracking is a deeply immersive practice that goes beyond mere observation of physical signs like footprints and broken branches. That effective tracking – real tracking – involved tuning into the energy of an animal. Connecting with the landscape, the subtle clues it provides, and being aware of the animal’s movements on an energetic level.

Then, it was our turn to track something. We had to take it in turns to see how far we could get along the rhino’s trail. Each of us would track for a few minutes, then rotate out, allowing another to take over.

Immediately, I felt nervous. How on earth was I going to manage this? Dust on a blade of grass? Feeling into the energy of the rhino?  How was I supposed to even find that when there was so much information I had to sort through out there? Not to mention, I had to do it all on foot in the African Savannah, without the safety of a Land Rover around me. Black Mamba snakes, lions, and other various wildlife seemed to be lining up to eat me (at least in my head).

Then, Andrea called out.

“Liz, you’re first up!”

The first track was fairly easy to spot on the sandy path, but my next steps took me in the wrong direction, leading me to stubby, dried grass. I stopped, lost. What now?

Boyd saw me worrying, and offered me some guidance “If you don’t see a track or a clue, go back to the last one you saw and look again”. I took a deep breath, turned around, and went back to the last track I saw.

I stopped there, watched the surroundings, and breathed, trying to drop into my body and into the energy of the rhino. Suddenly, it felt as if I was being pulled forward. I swear I felt a slight pull go up my arm with the stick I was holding, the rhino tracks seeming to leap out of the ground at me. I was doing it!

The rhino had passed very recently, leaving many signs of his direction. A line where he dragged his foot through the sand. Clear, sharp footprints. A story, embedded into the trail, one that I never wanted to stop reading.

Andrea kept prompting me along, asking me over and over: “What do you see? What do you see? What do you see?”. I was flying along the trail, picking out these tracks, and loving it.

Then, casually, Boyd said to someone in the group, “She’s good at this”. I thought, ‘Hey I’m good at this. How cool!” And almost instantly, the tracks vanished. I saw nothing. The trail had gone cold, and no matter how much I looked, I couldn’t get it back. It was someone else’s turn. 

We followed the tracks around a bend there was a herd of elephants.  Boyd said “back to the land rover!  We don’t want to come in contact with our elephant friends” so we ended up abandoning our tracking plans.

When I got back to camp, Andrea told me that I had a talent for tracking, but had noticed the moment things went wrong. Tapping his forehead, he said, “you started to use this.” Then, he tapped his heart and gut and said, “Always use this.”

I stood there, completely blown away. He was completely right. Not only that, but he’d just tapped into the principle at the core of my entire coaching practice, and the middle of the Savannah was the last place I had expected to hear it.

Why This Matters for Your Career Path

Career-finding is so often a cerebral thing. We think, and think, and think our way into careers that we don’t really want, but pay well, or are expected of us, or are just the next stop on a long road of bus-stop jobs.

When we look up and realise we’re in the wrong place, it can be scary and confusing.

Finding our way along life’s trail can be tricky because it’s like looking for signs with barely anything bigger than dust on a blade of grass to guide our way. In the bush, and in life, we don’t get straight lines and clearly-laid tracks ready for us to follow. We get tremendous unknowns, scary bends in the road, and a place to begin – our first track.

The secret? Awareness.

Track Awareness

I want to borrow from Andrea, the tracker, for a moment. He taught us that track awareness is how attuned you are to what’s around you. It’s recognising the first track when it appears, but not just that; it’s also teaching yourself how to see the important information when there is so much to look at.

You have to train your eyes to sift through all this information. Not just by looking – but by feeling. Your heart and gut has better eyes than your mind ever will, so when you’re seeking the next step on the trail, you need to let your heart and gut lead the way! The moment I forgot that out in the African bush, the moment I handed the reigns over to my head, was when I lost the track.   

But when I was flying along and finding footprint after footprint, there was a reaction in my body. It knew where to go next, humming like a tracking device. “Yes, go this way. No, don’t go that way”.

This is something I’ve experienced in my own career journey, and something I now teach my clients to tap into, so they can use it in theirs. Martha Beck  calls it the ‘body compass’, and it’s the best piece of navigational equipment you will ever own.

Losing the Trail

This isn’t to say that you’ll never feel lost, or never lose your way. Sometimes you’ll look up and have no idea where you are, or where you’re headed. We all know how that feels, whether it’s to do with your career or your life in general.

The key is what you do once you realise you’re lost. Many bury their heads in the sand, ignoring the body compass wildly beeping at them to “Turn back, turn back! We’re meant to go somewhere else!”.

But to make real strides, it’s as simple as returning to the last clear track, forming a tuning into the energy of the animal, making a theory about where the animal might have gone, forming a hunch, and seeing it through. If nothing turns up, do it again and again until you finally pick up the track. This is the exact way I became a career coach, how hundreds of my clients have found their way to work that feeds their souls, and how you can do the same.

Out in a totally unfamiliar environment, I realised that tracking animals is exactly like tracking clues to find one’s purpose. You must use your body, your heart, and your mind. You must be still, and calm. You must ask for help when you need it, be willing to search for the tiniest of clues, and most of all, stop overthinking it.

It may take a long time, or it may happen quickly.

But you will always, always get there, if you just keep asking yourself one of the oldest questions humanity has known to ask:

“What do you see? What do you see? What do you see?”.


 Still looking for tracks?

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