Swimming with dolphins

Do you spend most of your time feeding others, playing with them, or apart from them?  Does that work for you?  Photo by Krzysztof Kowalik on Unsplash

This article is about three aspects of life balance:

  1. Doing things for others
  2. Doing things with others
  3. Doing things on your own
FEEDING THE DOLPHINSFirst, I’d like you to imagine that you are one of those dolphin keepers who is responsible for feeding and training the dolphins in a marine park.  You know, the ones who get a good tan standing by the side of the pool with a bucket of fish.  There you are, holding one fish after another, throwing it to each dolphin, making sure that no one gets left out.

This is you in your ‘doing things for others’ mode.  Your job, as you see it, is to perceive the needs of others, and then attend to them as carefully and fairly as you can.  It is sometimes exhausting work, as you have to remain switched on until all the dolphins are fed and exercised.  You would feel guilty if you didn’t do it, but you can’t do it all the time.  Therefore, you arrange to do it at prescribed times.


Now I’d like you to imagine that sometimes you get fed up with feeding the dolphins.  On occasion, you change your clothes and jump into the pool.  It’s wonderfully cooling, and you get a chance to play.

This is you in your ‘doing things with others’ mode.  You are still aware of your responsiblities to others, but you allow yourself to share the action with them, making mutual decisions as to what happens next.  It lifts from you the burden of sole responsibility, and as such it is less tiring for you.


Finally, I’d like you to imagine that you have a life of your own.  At these times, you leave the marine park altogether, and your time is your own.  You have a chance to get the smell of fish off your hands, and to dry out a bit from the wet and chemicals in the pool.  The dolphins can look after themselves for a while, and there is no need to keep them occupied.

This is you in your ‘doing things on your own’ mode.  You are aware of the need to dissociate yourself from your responsibilities, and even the society of others, so that you can tend to your own needs for a while.  To do this, you need to to be able to trust others to cope without you.  You also need to feel ‘sufficient unto yourself’, so that you don’t have a crisis of identity and rush back into the marine park.


It’s up to you to find your own balance of these three activities.  If you don’t balance them, then you may recognise yourself here:

  • DOLPHIN-FEEDERS are constantly helping others, but never playing or resting.  They may do this because they are uncomfortable playing with others.  They will be plagued by the feeling of being set apart from others, but always having to serve them, just like that dolphin-keeper on the side of the pool.  They may also be slightly afraid of alone-time, as they are not quite sure what they are outside their official role.
  • DOLPHIN-SWIMMERS need constant company, and are often to be found chatting with others.  But they don’t really spend any time taking responsibility, and eventually the supply of resources dries up in the pool.
  • ABSENTEES take care of themselves.  Perhaps they do this because they are uncomfortable in positions of responsibility; or maybe they just don’t like dolphins!  But, either way, they can suffer from a lack of association with others, sometimes feeling useless and/or alone.
AN EXERCISEHave a think about your balance of the above three elements.

Do you need time balance between helping others, being with others, and being with yourself?

For instance:

  • Do you spend all your time ‘feeding dolphins’?
  • Do you spend all your time ‘swimming with dolphins’?
  • Do you spend all your time on your own?
What’s your balance like?  Does it suit you?  If there one type of activity you would like to grow, which one is it, and how might you do that?cropped-relo-20180125-remindful-logo-transparent-bg2.png


Our evolution has brought us into a slightly artificial society (a bit like a marine park), where our different roles become separated.

Three roles that we need to balance are:

  1. Doing things for others
  2. Doing things with others
  3. Doing things on our own
If we do too much of some of the above, and neglect others, then we can end up feeling lop-sided.In developing ourselves, we can redress the balance by attending to neglected roles.