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Salmon are born when they hatch in a fresh water river. Soon afterward, they follow the river to the sea, where they spend time maturing, and when they are ready they carry out epic migrations back to the exact spots where they were born. It's a fascinating life cycle, but what happens when the hatchery rivers dry up or shift their course or become too polluted to be safe? If every salmon stuck to this exact blueprint for life, eventually the species would die out. But it doesn't, because of the "strayers." There is a tiny percentage of salmon who don't return to the hatching grounds where they were born when it's their turn to breed. They follow different instincts or even get lost and wander; they wind up in a new spot in a new river and thus they ensure the spread and resiliency of their species. Because salmon are a "keystone species" - that is, their impact in the world is greater than their simple biomass would lead us to expect - the fact that these strayers exist is vital to entire ecosystems. Not every salmon can be a strayer, though. It's risky. Some new-found rivers aren't suitable for breeding, and some wind up trapping salmon so that the babies can't return to the sea. Most salmon are instinctually programmed to return to their own hatching grounds, but they owe their ability to do so to the minority, the strayers.

When our paths lead us in unexpected or unexplored directions, we can't be afraid to be a strayer - whether that means a change in career, in lifestyle, in relationships, in beliefs, or whatever forging a new path might look like. Despite others possibly having discomfort and maybe even expressing that discomfort unkindly, they need the outliers and strayers. We all need do. The world needs us, just exactly as unique and individual as we are.