A Fish Climbing a Tree

by Dennis Smith, Technical Marketing Track

A quote often attributed to Einstein says, “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Whether or not Einstein did in fact say this is besides the point. The quote in itself is a smart and succinct way of saying that individuals each have different strengths. People achieve their true potential when they focus on doing what they’re best at.

When I graduated college in May, I still hadn’t figured out what to do next; yet I figured the possibilities were endless and I was determined that whatever I did, it would be amazing.

Enter Startup Institute. I wanted to be part of something new, to skip the corporate ladder, and to contribute to something unbelievable! It was the breath of fresh air I was looking for. I figured the answer to my life’s goal would be answered and suddenly Dennis would have his dream career laid out before him, a beautiful mountain ready to be climbed.

As the weeks went on, I became more and more frustrated with my lack of direction and even more stressed about my failure to find it. I became jaded thinking that perhaps the real world had hit and I’d do best by lowering my expectations and growing up already. When I wasn’t interested in learning something new, I chastised myself for being immature and lazy.

After several weeks (whole weeks!), I realized that I was trying to force something I wasn’t passionate about, and suddenly felt like my normal self. It was a moment when I said, “Maybe my interests lie somewhere else, and that is O.K.” I was shocked to find that people had thought I was quiet, introverted, and reserved. For all my life, absolutely nothing could be farther from the truth. 

So, I decided that perhaps I was a fish trying to climb a tree. In order to find my real interests I decided, I would need to seek help from those people around me.

The people I’m surrounded by at Startup Institute all have experiences to share and knowledge I‘ve been able to readily learn from. And wow, are these people awesome. These are people who have traveled the world, started their own companies, quit their jobs, and experienced way more than I. And learning from each of them helps me understand myself that much better. In the few weeks of Startup Institute, I feel like I’ve learned things that would have otherwise taken me many confusing years of drudgery.

There is a fierce pride to be had in understanding who you are and what inspires you. To lack that inspiration in what you do is to do yourself a grave injustice, and without it, we fail to live up to our true potential. For myself especially, working at something I don’t enjoy and don’t believe in sacrifices the very best of me in the process. 

Finding what you’re good at and what drives you is so much easier said than done. Despite hearing it countless times, it took this experience for me to truly learn the lesson in full: doing what you love is awesome, but if you do what you don’t love, you will always feel like a fish climbing a tree.