And a Turtle Woke Me Up

By Susan Ford Collins

Childhood dreams seem to get buried in adult realities. Early passions and talents appear to get dulled and pushed aside as we rush about being responsible spouses, parents and employees. But it doesn’t always take life-and-death experiences to reawaken us. It could be something far more simple, like a small round-shelled creature.

A roadside reawakening

A turtle woke me up as he strode clumsily across the road when I was driving home one rainy morning. Seeing that turtle suddenly woke up the child-in-me, the one who had huge dreams, who couldn’t sleep when she was excited, who would take whatever actions were needed, who would get so involved in whatever she felt passionate about that she would wear herself out.

In that moment, the-little-girl-in-me wanted that turtle, remembering box turtles she used to pick up along the roadside when her family spent summers in Tidewater Virginia, when she begged her Dad to stop the car so she could pick that turtle up and take him home.

Her Dad usually said no, of course, but when occasionally he said yes, she would rummage around in their back shed to find just the right sturdy box or crate. She would scavenge bits of hamburger from the refrigerator and cut up juicy chunks of fresh tomato to offer its new-found tenant. Then the little girl in me would sit cross-legged in awe, watching that turtle’s sharpened jaw cut into her welcome-offering with great relish. At the beach, she would dig long winding channels in the sand, just deep enough for the ocean to start filling them, and then let her turtle sun, swim and explore. After a few days, she would let him (or her) go ceremoniously.

Caught up in these childhood memories, my adult heart started pounding just as it had all those years before. I pulled over to the side of the road, opened the car door and firmly (and albeit a bit cautiously) picked that turtle up and sat him down safely on the floor in front of the back seat.

When I slid in behind the wheel and headed home again, my adult mind came back on and, like a judgmental parent, it overwhelmed my excited inner-child. “If you take this turtle home with you and let it loose in your pond, there’ll be diseases. Besides this turtle will bite your Koi. Or eat your plants. Or dig holes in your yard. Or...”

The little-girl-in-me was shocked, catching my adult-self in this fear-bound declaration. And she shouted loudly enough for both of us to hear.

“STOP. STOP being so reasonable and practical and logical and delaying and busy... AND START LIVING AGAIN!”

And, in a moment of childhood defiance and adult recommitment, I picked that turtle up, with all its legs walking mid-air, and proudly took him in my house and let him loose in my pond.

He acclimated quickly and I would regularly catch a glimpse of him as he sunned along the edge of the pond. My Koi were fine and so were my plants. And best of all, so was I!

With that turtle living in my pond as a reminder, the rest of me “came to” from errands and tasks, credit cards and mortgage payments, pre-scheduled appointments committed to months before I knew how I’d feel when that day finally came. And something inside me danced once again. And dreamed and screamed and raced... I’M ALIVE! And what do I want? What do I really want?

What had I let go of while I was in that adult trance? While I was so committed to everyone else’s wants and dreams that I had completely forgotten about mine? While I was so predetermined and disciplined that I hadn’t even noticed that my energy for living had gone down... way down. Of course, next to others I always looked energetic, not needing a lot of sleep and always cranking out new ideas. But inside I knew the truth.

And the truth was that I had rheostated down from a 200 watt bulb to a twenty. Even though I was lit, it was barely. Until that turtle woke me up to vibrant life again... to choosing what I really want and taking action for it!

(c) Susan Ford Collins. For permission to use this article, email

* For more on the 10 Success and Leadership Skills, read The Joy of Success, Success Has Gears, or Our Children Are Watching.

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