In a sea lion colony, it’s the biggest male that runs the show. He gets the most mates, produces the most offspring. As a result, every sea lion wants to be the biggest, even if it’s only being slightly bigger that awards you first place.
Here’s the problem: with each male sea lion working to get just a little bit larger than the one ahead of him, this competition leads to sea lions becoming so big that they begin to suffer from serious health problems. In some cases, their size actually prevents them from being able to reproduce safely, undermining the entire purpose of being the biggest in the first place.
Are you studying to be a marine biologist, Alex?
While I did get to visit the Galapagos Islands last December to see some of these sea lions in person, I actually pulled this story from Dan Ariely’s “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior” which I’m taking via Coursera. I’ve enjoyed Dan’s work since reading Predictably Irrational, and so far his first week’s material in the course has been fantastic. There’s something very satisfying about learning on two levels, as I follow the course itself but also study the course for teaching techniques to improve the Community Builder Masterclass and related material.
Annnnnyway. The moral of the sea lion story, according to Dan, is that “the constant race for a relatively better position can threaten an entire ecosystem.” In lecture, he cites Robert Frank’s The Darwin Economy, and goes on to illustrate how harmful this style of competition can be to the individuals and the ecosystems that they inhabit.
This isn’t about sea lions
Take a look at your life. Your work. Your home. Your belongings.
Take a look at your goals. Your achievements. Your ambitions. Your dreams.
Take a look at your relationships. Your family. Your friends.
Are you just racing for a relatively better position than the person slightly ahead of you, putting yourself and the entire ecosystem you inhabit at risk?