Giraffes Have Four Stomachs (and what that means for your career)

Hi there! It’s part three of my series on career lessons from my recent South African safari. Surprisingly, it’s been hard for me to pick just four. But, lest I become the safari career coach, I’ll stick to four….for now.

Today’s comes from one of my favorite animals I saw on safari – giraffes! Not only do giraffes just seem like they shouldn’t have made it through evolution with those lanky legs, but the pattern on their fur is the coolest. How did that even happen? And why?

But did you also know a giraffe has four stomachs? That makes them a ruminant – like cows, sheep, goats, and other animals with four stomachs that require multiple chewing sessions to fully digest food. The process of a ruminant chewing their cud is called rumination. (Oh how I love a logical naming system!)

So, giraffes have to ruminate on their food before digesting it. Not a bad process, and I imagine if I ruminated a bid more on what I ate, I’d be svelte like a giraffe too. 😂

Watching the process

What makes a giraffe unique from other ruminants (in my very unscientific and uneducated opinion) is that, because of the giraffe’s long and slender neck, you can actually see its food go down to its stomachs (down the neck – like when we swallow) and then – voila! – come back up again!

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a video on this one (how that is possible, I don’t know), so you’ll have to trust me on this. You can actually see it! 👀

The giraffe chews the food it gets from the high branches of the bush, swallows, then waits for the partially-digested food to come back up it’s neck (did I mention you can see that?!?!) before it chews on it some more to finally swallow for good.

So, that works out to be quite a bit of chewing, processing, and digesting for just a little mouthful of leaves. It doesn’t seem very efficient, but giraffes seem to be doing ok for themselves, evolutionarily speaking, so maybe we can learn a bit from them, eh?

Digesting your decisions

As human, non-ruminants, we only have to digest our food once. We chew once and swallow never to see that food again. And many busy people these days, don’t even think much about what they eat, let alone have the time to chew again.

Unfortunately, that’s a decent representation for how we digest much of our information and decisions in life too. We chew it once (and usually quickly), we swallow, we move on. We hope that what needs to stick will stick and if we need to ruminate on something, it will come back up.

But. So often, it doesn’t.

Instead, we read articles (not books – they take too long!), we take notes, we listen to Ted Talks, we have brilliant insights about what we want to do in life. Then, we move on. Never to return to what we’ve read or taken note of.

Instead, we keep taking in new information and never come back to the stuff we’ve already chewed.

No wonder so many people are feeling overwhelmed and unsure of themselves these days.

Part of this is because there is so much information to digest these days. It seems more exciting to open up the internet, get a few tabs full of new motivational articles, productivity tips, and news articles and roll through those instead of go over what we’ve already read or thought about.

But what is all of that new information really getting us if we don’t ever get to digest it properly? If we don’t take the nutrients and the good stuff from it and put it into action?

Digesting Your Career

Just like all of the other information we take in and consider, career decisions need a little more processing. I talk to people all day that really don’t know how they got to where they are. They just went to grad school automatically or took the job that was offered to them at the time.

They didn’t chew the cud.

But your career is the most important recurring decision you will ever make in your life.

That’s right, just like when people talk about choosing to love their partner every day, you are choosing your career. Every. Day. Forever. And that choice you make everyday has MUCH more of an impact on your life than the home you buy or how you choose to invest your money.

Yet we often spend more time on those decisions than on choosing the next steps in our career or developing long term career plans.

You may think you’re trapped into something because of your education or because that’s just where your experience lies, but do you really want a decision you made when you were 23 (at best) to dictate the rest of your life? To dictate your happiness?

Just like giraffes, we all need to chew the cud of our careers a few times before it really gets through the system. If you’re on autopilot, just following the logical progression of your resume (boring!), it’s time to send that cud back up the system, chew on it a bit more, and consider what should stick and what needs to go.

This should be a recurring, consistent process (cue: work journals!). And, yes, you might need support. So, after you’ve given your current situation a few chews, reach out to others – friends, family, mentors, or even a career coach – to get an outsider’s perspective. Since we don’t have four separate stomachs, like true ruminants, it’s ok to outsource some of that digestion work to others.

But, the bottom line is that it needs to be digested. Thoroughly. And probably more than four times…

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