Around the time when naturalist Charles Darwin was an undergraduate at the University of Cambridge in 1828, collecting beetles was a national craze. Darwin collected avidly and became obsessed with winning a student accolade.
One day, Darwin had already collected two ground beetles when he noticed a rare crucifix ground beetle. He tried putting one of the other beetles in his mouth to clear his hand, but it discharged an acrid fluid down his throat, prompting him to spit it out and lose all three.
Darwin recollects this episode in The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1898; edited by his son, the botanist Francis Darwin):
My research began when I was yet in college, at Edinburgh, Scotland, where I began to collect beetles in earnest. No poet ever felt more delighted at seeing his first poem published than I did at seeing my first beetle identified in Stephens’ Illustrations of British Insects; under the illustration were the magic words, ‘captured by C. Darwin, Esq.”
I will not soon forget one afternoon in particular.
As I was walking along, I came upon a tree where some bark was pealing loose. There I spied a beetle. Without a net or collecting jar, I snatched it up in my hand. In almost the same moment I spied a second, distinctive beetle and snatched it up into my other hand. Soon after, under the edge of the bark, I saw a third unique species of beetle. What was I to do? Two hands, three beetles, I popped one beetle into my mouth to free up a hand. In that same instant the beetle squirted an acrid fluid into my mouth. My tongue, lips and the inside of my cheeks burned with this acidic fluid. What would you do? Exactly what the beetle would want you to do. You would spit out the beetle, as did I. The third beetle, the one I was about to scoop up also escaped.
Darwin’s experience suggests a pearl of wisdom: Don’t neglect what you have chasing what was never yours. You’ll risk losing all.
Idea for Impact: Focus on appreciating what you have. Concern less about what you don’t. Practice gratitude.
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