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When We Surprise Ourselves

Malta's newly completed habitat!
Malta’s newly completed habitat!

I’m not sure exactly when I began to believe I didn’t have any surprises left in store for myself.

After all, I still learn new things about other people and my pets each and every day.

But at some point I guess I just stopped paying attention to myself in that way…like there wasn’t going to be anything new left to learn about me.

That ended last month.

It has taken me a bit of time to wrap my mind around what I recently discovered about myself, but it has been time well spent.

By that I mean, I’ve needed the in-between processing time to finish a big task I set for myself – constructing my growing baby tortoise’s new habitat.

My baby girl enjoying her warm, humid moss cave.
My baby girl enjoying her warm, humid moss cave.

My red-foot tortoise, Malti, is one and a half years old and nearly 4 inches long.

She is growing fast, and her habitat must grow with her.

This is more challenging than just buying a bigger enclosure for several reasons: 

  • Since she is still a baby, she needs a continual 80+ percent humidity to stay healthy.
  • She also needs the heat to stay between 70 and 95 at all times.
  • Except at night, the heat needs to be closer to 80-90.
  • She needs privacy to hide (baby torts have a strong hiding instinct).
  • One end of the enclosure must be warmer than the other.

So…..back to what I learned. Clearly, none of Malti’s requirements are easy to pull off – especially for a first-time tortoise mommy.

And as I struggled and strained and stressed and spent time and cash (and then more time and more cash) trying to put together her new habitat, I started to witness something very interesting about myself.

I am quite inventive! Or creative. Or resourceful. Or some combination of the three.

What I mean is, if the instructions don’t work, I make up new instructions until I find what does work.

If I can’t find what I want for sale “out of the box,” I go scrounge around (in my folks’ garage, at Goodwill, et al) and find a way to create it from scratch.

And when I get irritated, or frustrated, I will instinctively say to myself (often out loud), “There must be a way. I KNOW I can figure this out.” After which I proceed to do just that.

Over these last few weeks as I’ve worked and re-worked Malti’s habitat, I’ve seen these three traits play out in me repeatedly.

And I’ve noticed myself marveling at my own ingenuity, creativity and resourcefulness – as if they were coming from someone else.

NOTE: I realize my more natural inclination towards modesty – false if necessary to avoid any hint of its opposite – is taking quite a beating here, but I am allowing it in order to make what I hope will be an insightful or at least an interesting point!

That point is – I am 45 as of last month, and (contrary to popular personal belief) clearly I do NOT know all there is to know about “me.”

In fact, there is probably quite a bit more yet to learn about myself – if I can learn to stay open and alert to new insights.

Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever gotten to a point in your life where you were kind of “ho-hum” about being you? Like, you felt you pretty much knew what makes you tick, what you are good at/not so good at, what you like/dislike, what is possible or not possible for you? Has anything ever come along to shake that up? If so, what was it? If not, do you think it might be possible that you still have a few surprises in store for you in the future?


When We Surprise Ourselves

Shannon Cutts

Freelance writer. Author. Cockatiel, redfoot tortoise & box turtle mama.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2019). When We Surprise Ourselves. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Mar 2019
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