I was six when my dad dropped a beetle in my hand. It was turquoise blue—a color I've grown to love for its purpose and power in life, especially among Native American cultures. But this beetle was from Egyptian soil.
And its significance outweighed any rolling of the dice in work or in life. Said simply, the dung beetle knew how to pick up animal stool, roll with it, bury it in a burrow of dirt, lay its eggs within and then transform new life out of the ball. For the past 20,000 years, it was a pattern revered by humans.
Today, the beetle's symbolism is a great reminder for us in our careers.
Beetles were held sacred in Ancient Egypt for multiple millennia. From hieroglyphs to jewelry, and from limestone carvings to scriptures, imagery of beetles (known as "scarabs") was prevalent throughout Egyptian households, funerary locations and city buildings. Burial tombs often contained thousands.
Egyptians believed the scarab was a god that rolled the sun across the sky, hid it each evening, then emerged the next morning born anew. Referred to as "Khepera," the scarab was a symbol of the restoration of life and it could often be found in the form of amulets or pectoral jewelry or in wall carvings. Because of its solar connection, the "creator" side of the scarab was associated with the Egyptian god "Atum."
Ancient Egyptians weren't alone. African, Buddhist, Taoist and many Shaman cultures as far back as the late Paleolithic epoch (10,000 to 20,000 years ago) carved or painted scarab beetle representations in limestone buildings, caves, rocks, parchments and on pendants.
But as with many things in life, symbolism only lasts as long as the believers. For 20,000 years, humans appreciated and went so far as to worship the simplicity of a hard-working insect that recycled, collaborated and generated new life from waste day after day. The acts of the scarab and the Ancients who focused on them can teach us a lesson or two in our jobs. (After all, it's not uncommon for us to say we had to "pick up someone's crap.")
Five learnings for our careers
Dung beetles boasted ray antennae—a symbol pointing toward the sun or light. In our jobs, an "antenna" is the ability to read people and situations; to understand what others think of you. It's important to develop a sense of how clients and staff feel.
Scarab beetles worked quickly to identify dung left by cows, warthogs and other animals. While collaborative, they were also competitive and eventually rolled the cumulatively heavy ball individually with sheer determination both up and down the Sahara (and other desert) sand dunes. We've seen that grit, agility and perseverance (as well as resilience) are commonly sought emotional intelligence traits in our work.
The mystical nature of the scarab stemmed from its offspring emerging from the dirt after feeding off the dung ball. Ancients associated both the dung ball itself and the subsequent new life as a form of eternity. In many ways, the scarab chooses where to bring new life and in our jobs—we too have choices. The beetle suggests we can continue on the path we're on, or we can keep moving toward a path of new awakenings in our jobs each morning. It's all about a positive attitude in our work and responsibility.
The scarab beetle amulet was placed over the heart area of the mummified deceased. These scarabs were said to have been weighed against the "feather of truth" during the Egyptian final judgment. The beetle was humble, hardworking and decisive. We too can be keepers of these traits each day in our choices, desire for feedback and truthful reflection on our past work and life.
Too often the work environment becomes a machine as companies grow and change. The scarab symbolized "creator" and as with Egyptian culture, the Native Americans of the Chaco region saw beetles as "potters" where man and woman were formed from clay. What a motivational way to start each morning with the idea of rebirth, rejuvenation and spirit of creating something fresh—every day is a new day in our jobs.
We roll dice in serendipitous cases like networking. But next time you're harvesting ideas, products or research, consider when you'll roll your work down a new path or give new life to old plans.
Daresay, if someone leaves his or her waste for you, say thank you and turn it into something fresh. Take accountability for creating your source of life in work where new ideas will be born, agility is valued and every morning is a new awakening for you. It comes from within you and whatever ball of life you roll.
Photographs: (1) scarab in hand by Joanne Markow (2) limestone statue of scarab in Egypt by giacomarco (3) collage of open source photos of scarabs in Ancient Egyptian art, sculpture and jewelry (4) dung beetle by Nolte Lourens.