A Tail Tell Sign: Goodbye 2013

by Monica McCarthy on December 30, 2013


Over the holidays I went whale watching with my parents in Maui, thanks to the folks at the Pacific Whale Foundation. While we didn’t get up close and personal with the magnificent mammals, we did see several whale tails above the water and the phenomenon known as whale “footprints.”After a whale brings his tail back under the water there remains the image of the tail, making it appear as if the whale is still there, just below. (Technically this is the area where the surface of the water is smoother than the surrounding area due to the vortex caused by the whale’s massive size and the momentum of the movement.)

The resulting effect is that it appears the whale is still there in the same spot. If you want to see the whale come out of the water again, it looks like you should focus your attention there. But (and I’m sorry to say) you’ll be disappointed. Because while you’re focused on the markings of where the whale has been, the whale itself has actually moved on.

In order to witness the whale’s next appearance you’ll have to fight your instinct and peel your eyes away from the footprint. Which direction to look next? You won’t know. You will have to scan the horizon and keep your eyes open for the next sign of life. Whales have to do what whales have to do … keep swimming.

At this time of the year when most of us are prone to look back on our own footprints made over the last 365 days, I can’t help but think how tempting it is to stay so focused on the past that we lose sight of what lies beyond. This applies not just to our own experiences, but also when we remain focused on the footprints of others. Often this preoccupation leads us to follow where others have trodden, but the reality is we will never catch up. By the time we find their footprint it is too late, they too have moved on to warmer waters. This happens in business, relationships, creative endeavors, and well, life in general.

While we can never be fully certain where the whale will appear next, over time and with practice, we can become better at predicting. Similarly, if we want to get better at knowing which direction to head in the future we have to be willing to take our eyes off of what has past.

I believe the security of knowing what has, in fact, happened is a large part of why we take such pleasure in curating lists and quantifying “the best and worst of” at the end of every year. We know what occurred and there is comfort in certainty. For example, I can list here how many races I ran or talks I gave or places I visited in 2013. Even if the numbers fall short of where I would like them to be, I know they happened and that feels empowering.

The truth is I’ve tried to write my year in review post and I’ve (mostly) enjoyed reading those of my peers and friends. But 2013 was such a head-spinning year of goodbyes and hellos that the reality is I’m tired of living in that space. I stared so long and hard at the footprint of my 2013 in hopes of a sign for which direction to head next, that I must admit here I lost sight of what I truly needed to find: A sense of peace.

On the last day of my visit to Maui my mom said something to me I had never heard before. I was dreading the red-eye flight and the cold weather and the reality that awaited me back in NYC. Sensing my anxiety she said: “Don’t suffer twice.” Wow. I took this as great advice to help me stop worrying about future things out of my control, but I now realize it also applies to accepting the difficult experiences of the past. Once was enough.

Thus, as they say, “Onwards!” I’ll see you in the New Year with my intention for 2014. I don’t know exactly what is in store for me but I’ve finally, finally, learned to find peace by keeping my eyes on the horizon instead of the murky deep below.

I wish the same for you.


{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeremy O'Krafka December 30, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Love it Monica! My favorite hat as a kid was one I picked up from Wayne Gretzky’s restaurant…and all it said was “Anticipate”. Your post reminded me of the essence of what I appreciate about that simple phrase.


Monica McCarthy December 30, 2013 at 5:56 pm

Thanks so much, Jeremy!”Anticipate”… I love it! I just now remembered that the name of the boat my parents and I were on was called “Intrigue.” Another great word! Happy New Year!


Clay Hebert December 30, 2013 at 9:30 pm

Great post, Monica. I never knew about the whale “footprints”. The analogy to the “footprints” we all leave throughout the year is a powerful one. Wishing you a successful and happy 2014.
Clay Hebert recently posted…The Best Conference HackMy Profile


Monica McCarthy December 31, 2013 at 12:28 am

Thanks so much Clay. I had no idea about the whale “footprints” either prior to the trip but is really was fascinating to witness. Cheers to you and wishing you the best year yet!


Drew Meyers December 30, 2013 at 9:47 pm

2014 is going to be an awesome year for you. I sense it :)


Monica McCarthy December 31, 2013 at 12:24 am

From your mouth to God’s ear:) Hopefully that also includes a crossing of paths.


Drew Meyers December 31, 2013 at 11:26 am

I will be in NYC in mid Jan for a bit. So it def will, assuming you don’t hop on a random airplane between now and then :)


Monica McCarthy December 31, 2013 at 11:32 am

Excellent news!


Candace December 31, 2013 at 1:22 am

“I stared so long and hard at the footprint of my 2013 in hopes of a sign for which direction to head next, that I must admit here I lost sight of what I truly needed to find: A sense of peace.”

Monica, I really don’t have the words to say how much I love this…I am always a huge fan of drawing metaphors and lessons from nature, and your story of the whale footprints nearly brought me to tears. Thank you for sharing it and for opening up about your own story, and know that I can’t wait to see where 2014 takes you! xox
Candace recently posted…2013 in review: Decisions are like dominoes, and other lessons.My Profile


Monica McCarthy December 31, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Heartfelt “Thank you!” over here! I’m so grateful our paths crossed in India at the beginning of the year and I’m so excited to see where they cross again in 2014 and beyond…

Happy New Year!


Mike Sowden (@Mikeachim) December 31, 2013 at 8:18 am

Beautifully said.

It’s true: end of year posts are attempts to impose stability on chaos (that’s “chaos” in the “normal life” sense, not as the negative, destructive force that conservative people like to condemn). It’s easy to pretend there was a plan all along. In my case, I definitely felt the temptation of this yesterday when I started writing mine – but I found a list of plans for 2013 in a notebook, and all those plans turned into other things (some of them better things, thankfully).

Plans usually collapse into something else with their first brush with reality. I’m not sure I believe in meticulously crafted plans any more. I’m not sure they’re a good way to get stuff done. Too brittle. Life is too bumpy.

Intentions are the new plans, and momentum is the new certainty. The more energy you put into each of these, the further you get towards where you want to be, and the more reality just has to deal with that.

I very much hope the horizon is a lot closer than you think, and that this year, your intentions gallop out of nowhere and give you a bear-hug and shout “we’re here! You made it! Come on! Stuff to do!”

Allons-y, Monica.
Mike Sowden (@Mikeachim) recently posted…My 2013 In Review: 13 Things That Felt RightMy Profile


Monica McCarthy December 31, 2013 at 10:56 am

Such a beautiful comment- thank you Mike! “Intentions are the new plans, and momentum is the new certainty” = brilliant. This made me realize how different “plans” are from “goals.” Based on our intentions we can set goals and take steps towards them, but we must learn to be flexible and to adapt because, well, life rarely goes as planned. Fingers crossed 2014 (and beyond) is better than we can even imagine.

A very Happy New Years to you!


Anna January 1, 2014 at 7:56 pm

“We know what occurred and there is comfort in certainty. For example, I can list here how many races I ran or talks I gave or places I visited in 2013. Even if the numbers fall short of where I would like them to be, I know they happened and that feels empowering.”

This is great. I’ve been thinking hard about this. I have a lot of media friends on Facebook. Nearly every single one of these young power people put up a post akin to “Ran 25 5ks. Met my boyfriend. Got a new job at X website. Went to X place. This was a good year.” And I read all of them thinking that these were attempts at pacifying regrets or shame over what never happened. Happiness should be paramount, achievements follow.
Anna recently posted…Looking Back On The Same DestinationMy Profile


Monica McCarthy January 1, 2014 at 9:07 pm

Thanks so much. I’ve been thinking about it a lot as well and I believe it comes down to what feels true for the individual… not just for end-of-year posts… but for any personal posts. You and I both know a TON of people that espouse how EPIC their life is and yet they live in their parents’ basement and eat Ramen while selling yet-another-online-course about how to be EPICALLY AWESOME or whatever.

While some great things did happen for me in 2013, I didn’t feel I could be authentic if I only shared my highlights, because a large part of my year was defined by difficult experiences that A) I didn’t want to relive again and B) Involved other people and it isn’t my place to share their role in my story.

Also, what is the writer’s intention of the year-of-highlights-post for the reader? If it’s to attempt to prove my-life-is-better-than-yours, then the post is completely self-serving. But if the intention is to inspire the reader to pursue his/her own’s dreams (and the difference between those two intentions is typically very transparent) then it perhaps gives more than it takes.

Here’s to a year of a new beginnings and all that comes with it:)


Kirsten January 2, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Just, very simply, YES.
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