Ten years ago, if someone had asked you what your spirit animal was, you’d have moved to the other end of the tram, dialled 000 into your Motorola flip phone and sat, quivering, with your thumb poised over the call button. Today it’s as unremarkable and pedestrian as pulled pork on a brioche bun with whipped kale and a pfeffernüsse crumble served in a terracotta pot.
You’ll have it asked of you at work, in job interviews and sometimes even during medical appointments. And it’s true: the answer you give to the question says a lot about you. So here’s my guide to deciding on which animal best represents you:
Never go with a predator. It’s a monumentally dull cliche. Everyone says they’re a vicious (but “strategically integrated” or “professionally oriented”) carnivore. Ironically, though, by going with lion, shark or wolf you come away looking like a lemming.
Consider the animal’s flaws as well as its strengths. You might think “tireless”, “strong” and “sturdy” when you go with camel, but everyone else is thinking “foul-smelling”, “froth-mouthed”, “seven-foot walking sheep dag”. Or, worse, “hump”.
Mythical and extinct creatures are a good way of standing out from the crowd. I once said my spirit animal was a moa and immediately got a $25,000 raise and a bottle of Grange from my boss. If some self-styled comedian takes this as their cue to ask “Does that mean you’re dead?”, take that as your queue to respond with “Not as dead as your career, banal predator”.
Another tactic is to go fishing by baiting those who know you with an animal that doesn’t describe you at all. Some years ago, during a planning day activity and after revelations that I was colleagues with a tiger, a panther, a bear, a mountain lion, a barracuda, a hawk, a sealion a kestrel and a cobra, I felt compelled to throw a spanner in the works and went with sloth.”I’m a little bit slow and don’t do very much during the day,” I explained. Uproar ensued. Those who didn’t get the joke and laugh at my subversive genius assured me with furious earnestness that I was a powerhouse of industriousness and a paragon of intellectual rigour.
Stay within these guidelines and you’ll soon be zoomorphing yourself into an irresistible professional force.
An edited version of this article first appeared in the MyCareer section of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.
You can read Benign to Five in those papers every Saturday, and if you miss it, you can look it up online in the BusinessDay section of The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Canberra Times, WAToday and Brisbane Times. (I now wankishly call myself a “syndicated columnist” on my CV.)