Are You a Fish Climbing a Tree?

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The other day I ran across a quote that I had to stop and think about:

Everybody is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid. ~Albert Einstein

It reminded me again of how we’re all so unique and have different strengths and talents. Some people spend life trying to fit into a the mold of what’s expected and end up feeling like a fish jumping out of water and trying to climb a tree.

Measuring the wrong things in our lives isn’t an encouraging thing to do, is it? My spark isn’t athleticism. I’m that girl who can’t hit a baseball even if it’s on a t-ball stand. I’ve always admired those who could.

Fish can’t breathe out of water, much less swim their way to the top of a tree. And I’d never make it to the Olympics, even with the best trainers in the world. Sure, I could improve and it’s possible someone could succeed where my high school gym teacher failed and teach me to overcome my depth perception issues and hit a ball. But I’d never make a successful career in baseball. What a waste of the talents I do have it would be to focus all that time and energy to try and become something I’m not.

We’ve all got our own spark of genius. Discovering, following, and leveraging that spark so we can share it with others is the challenge. What’s yours? Are you too close to see it in yourself?

Sometimes as entrepreneurs we build businesses that put us in a position where we’re not building on our strengths but instead letting our weaknesses get in our way. Our businesses need to come from a foundation of strength, of what we’re good at, and what we naturally do well.

Fish are happy in the water. They glide along and breathe easily. Are you happy in your business? Business is work. Sometimes it’s hard. But we should be able to breathe and enjoy most of it.

If you’re not in that place right now, I challenge you to take a time out and decide on one thing you can do right now to fix that. Whether it’s setting a new goal, making a new rule for yourself and setting better boundaries, moving in a different direction, or just changing what time you work — doesn’t matter if it’s big or small — change it.

Personally, I’ve got a lot of thinking to do this week about how to better play to my own strengths. Join me!

P.S.  Speaking of doing things your own way… if you think a fish can’t climb a tree, check this out:  the walking fish… so remember also that if someone else thinks you’re a fish trying to climb a tree, if you know you’re headed the right way and following your spark of genius, you just might be that fish who can climb the tree!

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  1. This post is coming to me at a great time. It’s time to look back at 2010 and see what worked and what didn’t. Why and why not. It’s usually just as simple as you say. The things that didn’t work were things I wasn’t interest in!
    Martha Giffen recently posted… How to Increase Readers to Your BlogMy Profile

    1. Excellent point – it’s not just what we’re good at but also what we’re really interested in… adding that to my list of things to think about as 2010 ends…
      Michelle Shaeffer recently posted… Are You a Fish Climbing a TreeMy Profile

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Terri Zwierzynski and Solo-e Feed, Michelle Shaeffer. Michelle Shaeffer said: Blog: Are You a Fish Climbing a Tree? #blogboost […]

  3. And then Mike Murdoch said something like “everyone is a genius somewhere” which i love, love, love.

    what that tells me is if you’re not a genius yet, then you haven’t found your correct environment yet :)

    1. I like that quote!
      Michelle Shaeffer recently posted… Are You a Fish Climbing a TreeMy Profile

  4. P.S. You are a GENIUS with websites and wordpress. I keep raving to people about you!!!

    1. Thank you, Marcia, I appreciate it.
      Michelle Shaeffer recently posted… Are You a Fish Climbing a TreeMy Profile

  5. Alice Seba began a new course this week. The first lesson included a list of how people share differently online. It was such an eye-opener. It was interesting to see how 7 bloggers can be talking about the same thing, yet have a totally different approach in how they are sharing that information.

    Identifying the way I share from that list was a great reminder of the “pond” this fish belongs in. :) I am most comfortable doing things one way, there’s no point in trying to be someone else.
    Angie recently posted… Holiday Networking- It Is That Time of YearMy Profile

    1. Glad you know your “pond” – being in the right place really makes things easier. :)
      Michelle Shaeffer recently posted… Are You a Fish Climbing a TreeMy Profile

  6. Hi Michelle,

    Thanks for sharing the quote and the thoughts that it provoked. I completely agree (except the baseball, which I’ve never tried!). WE all have aour strengths and we must learn to play to them and most importantly, not to under estimate them..

    all the best


    1. Ooooh good point! It’s easy to underestimate our strengths. I think this post needs a part 2.

  7. Great post Michelle! I say, break the mold rather than try and fit into it! My folks were such a great example to me as a young child. I have 2 brothers and one is literally a math genius and the other is a sweet soul and has lived with autism. My parents always developed different standards for us and just helped us surpass our own goals (not each others). It’s a lesson I continue to learn from as a mom now myself and home business owner.

    1. It’s so valuable to have parents (or teachers, or other role models in our lives) who understand that, Dani.

  8. You get the Great Headline of the Day award.

    More and more, I’ve been working on focusing toward my strengths and subbing out the stuff that I do poorly don’t enjoy/find interferes with more crucial activities. Ex ample: we have a housecleaning come in every two weeks, and what they can do in two hours would take Dina and me four.

    BTW, I can’t hit a ball either (though I haven’t tried since doing a couple of years of vision therapy, which has definitely helped my depth perception).
    Shel Horowitz recently posted… IAECM Changes Its NameMy Profile

    1. *curtsy* Thank you for the award. :)

      Great point – we need to not only know our weaknesses but figure out how best to outsource them or otherwise reduce the amount of time we’re spending on them.

      I didn’t realize that was part of the vision therapy. Might have to check into that sometime. I know reaching for a glass or mug without my contact lenses in is a very bad idea. :D

  9. Michelle, I think you’ve hit a nerve. I think most people know when they’re not playing to their strengths – even if wildly successful. It’s a drain to be doing something day in and out that doesn’t feed your soul or allow you to shine. Sometimes, the answer is as simple as outsourcing those things that don’t work, so you can focus on the things you love. Other times, it means walking away. As entrepreneurs, there will always be those things we don’t love to do or do well, but that must get done. Learning to differentiate and compartmentalize the yuck stuff can make more room for the joyful stuff. Warm thoughts to you as you mull over your strengths and how to stay in them most of the time. :)
    Lisbeth Tanz recently posted… An Article Writing PrimerMy Profile

    1. Yep, there’s that uncomfortable feeling that keeps popping back up and reminding us that something doesn’t fit quite right. It’s rather annoying, but valuable if we listen to it.

      And thanks for your encouragement and listening ear lately… you know where this post came from. :)

  10. Hey Michelle, thanks for the great blog post!

    For those who like tests as a way of finding out their strengths, I highly recommend Tom Rath’s book, Strengths Finder 2.0.

    By doing the test in the book, you’ll learn your top five strengths. I’ve used it with many of my clients and they’ve found it very valuable, as have I.


    kathy recently posted… Be A First Class Version Of Yourself- Rather Than A Second Class Version of Someone ElseMy Profile

    1. Thanks Kathy, I’ll definitely check that book out.

  11. What got to me in your post was the question: “Are you happy in your business?” So many people forget that the whole point of being an entrepreneur is to be happy in their business. If you aren’t, it’s time for a business check-up. Your advice, to change one thing to fix the problem, is the best!
    Jeannette Koczela recently posted… Joe Vitale’s 30-000 WatchMy Profile

    1. Right! It’s so easy to create something that ends up trapping us… and we forget why we started our own businesses in the first place.

  12. Is there something in the air or in the water lately? Almost everyone in my circle of influence (myself included!) is taking time to contemplate your message, Michelle.

    And it’s a darn good one, to boot!

    I’ve been having second thoughts (and third thoughts and fourth thoughts) about “who” I’m serving and “why” in my business. Can’t spill the beans right now (in the midst of doing my niche homework) but I can definitely feel it’s time for me to focus, solely and exclusively, on my years and years of experience, very specialized knowledge, and my passion in life.

    Thanks for an extremely provocative and compelling post!

    You don’t do mind reading on the side, do you? :)

    1. I wish I’d mastered that skill! Or, maybe not. ;) But yes, I think a lot of us are doing a lot of thinking and refocusing right now.

  13. Michelle,

    It has been a time of refection for me too. I really enjoyed this post. Your post and comments have given me pause to look deeper and not just take a cursory look.

    It is easy to get on the treadmill of what we think works or to pick up ideas from others and think they will work for us.

    It takes courage to create and let your own light shine.
    Sheila Atwood recently posted… The Weekend WebMy Profile

    1. It does. Sometimes entrepreneurship feels like a constant battle to find that courage to take big steps and do what we feel is right for us.

  14. Loved the article, I just hope that your high school gym teacher didn’t feel she was a failure because she didn’t teach depth perception. I do believe that what you said here is so over looked that some of us hit our heads against a brick wall way too long after the first encounter before we adjust. We get over committed to something and keep going instead of taking a new path. And the longer we continue the harder it becomes to adjust.Ever heard someone say “I’m going to do this even if it kills me”? That does not seem like a good plan to me. Thanks for sharing an eye opening article.
    william chaney recently posted… Cookies for the Holiday Wine PartyMy Profile

    1. I’ve said that myself (I’m going to finish this if it kills me!) without really thinking about what it means… hmm… definitely not a great plan!

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