Fishing fascinates me.  My Dad, Lee Jolles, loved to fish.  My nephew Matt loves to fish.  Quite frankly, I’ve never really understood what’s so interesting about sitting or standing around, for hours at a time, with a pole in your hand… but I learned a valuable lesson from a fisherman.

Some time ago, I was wandering around the banks of the Potomac River and I came across a fisherman.  He seemed happy enough, sitting there with his pole in the water.  I smiled, and instinctively asked him the only question I knew to ask a fisherman: “Did you catch anything?”

He politely smiled and nodded rather ambivalently. I had no idea what that nod meant and my brain began to swirl with more questions like,  “So, did you catch anything?!” “How many fish did you catch?” and  “How big was the fish you caught?”  I wanted to ask these questions because, in a sense, I was trying to judge whether he was successful at what he was doing or not.

Still curious, I tried to sneak a peak into his bucket where I assumed he was keeping the fish he may or may not have caught. Unfortunately, the lid was covering part of the bucket so I shrugged my shoulders and began to leave.  He must have sensed that I wasn’t satisfied with his response because he called out to me. He told me something I have never forgotten…

“You want to know how many fish I’ve caught because you think the more fish I catch, the happier I’ll be.  For a real fisherman, one has nothing to do with the other.  I’m out here on a beautiful morning, amongst spectacular nature, along the banks of a magnificent river.  I’m having a wonderful day because I love to fish; not because of what’s in the bucket. If that’s not good enough for you, move the lid and look in the bucket.”  So I did.

His response made me think about my triathlon and marathon days.  It took a lot of work to get ready for those races, and it was a tremendous challenge to complete them.  For some of those races, it took years of training to be able to even participate in them.  People who have never run a race would ask me what my time was.  People who actually did run in races asked only one question: “Did you finish?”

This concept of defining success by your goals, and not the goals of others, translates to much of what we do.

  • Sometimes it’s pursuing a career that doesn’t generate a lot of money, but we find personally fulfilling and satisfying.
  • Sometimes it’s pursuing a client who may not end up working with us, but for whom we complete a proposal that is on time and to the best of our ability.
  • Sometimes it’s delivering a presentation to an audience that just isn’t very responsive, but we know that we prepared diligently and brought our “A-game” delivery skills.

There are so many scenarios that seem to trap us into judging our success by the outcome rather than our effort.  These scenarios seem to focus on what we cannot control, rather than on what we can control.  These scenarios often define something we do by how conventional thinking judges our accomplishments, rather than the joy we feel simply doing something we love.

Now, would you still like to know what I saw in that fisherman’s bucket?  If you do, read this BLArticle® again.

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