The ants go marching … mostly

Chapter 14

Good day to this new week, despite it already being Thursday.

I am currently reading a book about quitting. “Quit” by Annie Duke makes the case for an undervalued and important skill that can lead to success: knowing when to quit. The power of knowing when to quit, to walk away, adds nuance to the old-school advice that only grit and perseverance are necessary to achieve goals.

But that’s not why I didn’t write this on Monday. First I wasn’t in the mood, I lacked inspiration, I was tired, then the week started with a rush of all the unattended to-do’s of the week. So no, I’m not going quietly!

Here is a nice little story from the book. The ants go marching … mostly

Have you ever watched ants walking in a single line toward a common destination? The ants go marching one by one, hurrah! That’s how we imagine them. And forager ants really do march that way.


When you look closer, what you’ll see is that while most of the ants are marching in line to and from the food source, there is always a certain percentage of the foragers that seem to be wandering around aimlessly. They aren’t following the program. They look suspiciously like freeloaders, shirking their responsibility to bring food back to the nest. Are they ants with an attitude? Are they rebels? Lazy malingerers? Ant anarchists? Anti-establishments ants? It turns out these ants serve a crucial purpose and that purpose has a lot to do with quitting.

When ants enter new territory, all the foragers are wandering around scattered across the area, the opposite of that classic marching-in-line that we expect to see. That’s because there is no established food source yet and that ants are searching for one. When an ant finds food, it brings it back to the nest. Along the way, it lays down a chemical scent called pheromone train, which is faint when it comes from just one ant. Any other ant that picks up that scent will follow the same trail. And if the food source is high enough in quality, they too will find food on the same path. As the chemical scent gets stronger, other ants begin to follow the trail, soon the traffic is greater which makes the trail stronger and stronger and you end up with the ants marching in one line.

But what about the others, the puzzle of the wandering ants? The answer is that these ants are continuing to explore the territory. This serves a vital purpose for the colony. First, some will be forced to quit the food source which can be unstable or disappear. Second, if the food source remains stable it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a better food source available than the one they’re currently exploiting. If all remain in the march in lockstep, they’ll never discover a better food source, because none of them will be looking for it.

Here is a lesson for us. Quitting might not be quitting at all, but a resistance to stop exploring.

The story of the wandering ants teaches us a valuable lesson about the importance of knowing when to stop and when to persevere. In our quest for growth and fulfilment, just as these tiny creatures explore new territories in search of nourishment, we too can be willing to venture beyond the familiar. Rather than being an act of weakness, abandonment (quitting the line) can sometimes be an act of wisdom and judgement, allowing for the redirection of our efforts towards more fruitful pursuits.

As we navigate our way through life’s complexities, we are reminded of the words of Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what is the will of God, His good, pleasing and perfect will. “

By renewing our minds and aligning ourselves with His purpose, we gain the clarity and discernment we need to navigate the twists and turns of our journey, the journey of others and the big picture of the journey of God and his people. So let us have the wisdom to know when to stop (quit the line) and when to persevere, trusting in God’s guidance every step of the way.

Have a good rest of the week.


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