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Why You Should Learn From Cockroaches

I hope we embrace the tenacity of a cockroach when faced with challenges, yet remain open to the possibility of redirection when necessary.



Last night, a friend called me with an unusual excitement in his voice. I could tell that something very positive had happened to him. He wanted me to guess, so I jokingly asked if he had gotten a girlfriend. He laughed but said that while having a girlfriend was important to him, that wasn’t what had happened. I tried to guess a few more times, but I couldn’t figure it out. Turns out he got a scholarship he had failed to get since he started applying many years ago. The third time he called to inform me he did not get in, I advised him to give up on the scholarship, and he agreed. But he woke up one night and decided to give it another shot. And that was it, the last hope that turned into reality.

Be a cockroach. 

I was in a fancy restaurant when a friend said those words. She explained, “In my life, I have never seen a cockroach die immediately after the first hit. You have to constantly beat it with your broom or slippers before it dies. So I think everyone should be a cockroach. Don’t give up because you fail to hit your goal or dream at the first hit. You have to constantly hit it; apply again and again, then maybe you will get it one day.”

I initially failed to understand the analogy because when you constantly hit a cockroach, it dies, which ends its ability to survive. But immediately after my friend ended the call last night, the words came back to me. I realised that the finality of existence for the cockroach translates as hitting the target or goal for us as humans while the process of constantly hitting the cockroach translates as the struggle we put into attaining our goal or dream despite many trials.

There are several reasons cockroaches don’t die immediately after they are hit. They have a hard exoskeleton that acts as armour, protecting their internal organs from damage. This exoskeleton can absorb some of the impact from a hit, reducing the force that reaches the cockroach’s body. They also have a flexible body structure that allows them to squeeze through tight spaces. The flexibility helps them withstand impacts by distributing the force across their body. Also, cockroaches have quick reflexes that enable them to detect danger and react swiftly. When they sense a threat, they may instinctively move away or retract their legs, minimising the impact of a hit. Cockroaches are incredibly resilient creatures that can survive in harsh environments. Their ability to withstand extreme conditions, such as high levels of radiation or lack of food, extends to their ability to endure physical trauma. According to a TedEd, a cockroach can withstand a compressive hit 900 times by distributing the force across its body.

Sometimes, it is important to embody persistence like a cockroach. You may need to try to reach your goal multiple times before you can achieve it, but giving it another try may bring you closer to your dream. As humans, we can be impatient and easily assume that something is not meant for us when we fail to achieve it the first or second time. However, adjusting something in the application process, or changing the methods we’ve applied, or simply just trying again might help us achieve our goals.

Let me also add that I understand that persistence does not always guarantee success, especially when you’re persistent on something that is probably outside your scope. I have seen people tirelessly pursue goals that were not aligned with their talents, passions or circumstances, only to face repeated disappointment. In that case, we need to reassess our goals and aspirations, consider our strengths and limitations, and the practicality and peculiarity of our pursuits.

There is no manual that guarantees success or outlines the perfect path to our dreams. Sometimes, we must embody the resilience of a cockroach, persistently pursuing our goals despite setbacks and failures. Other times, we must recognise when it’s prudent to let go, like an insect that meets its end swiftly and gracefully. Knowing when to persist and when to pivot requires wisdom, self-awareness, and a willingness to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances of life.

I know that there’s a thin line between persistence and discernment in our pursuits, but I hope we embrace the tenacity of a cockroach when faced with challenges, yet remain open to the possibility of redirection when necessary. After all, life’s journey is not mainly about reaching our destination but also about the lessons learned and the growth experienced along the way. In essence, don’t give up on what you strongly believe you can achieve.

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