June 12, 2013
Winston Wayne Wilson
I’ve had the great pleasure of visiting Japan twice. Among the countless things that I enjoyed during my trips, was the Zen-like experience of visiting Japanese Garden Koi ponds. There, I would stare endlessly at the streaks of variegated colors as schools of Koi fish swim boisterously to and fro amidst oversized lily pads. Koi fish are known for swimming upstream, no matter how robust the current. Hence, they have come to symbolize strength, perseverance and courage in the face of adversity. As I gazed into the different ponds, I often wondered if these Koi fish ever get bored of the scenery; or of swimming back and forth past the same fish each day; or if they ever outgrow the confines of the ponds and dream of bigger, ocean-like ponds. I also wondered if Koi fish ever get tired of going against the current and suddenly wake up one day wanting to be conformists. In short, do Koi fish ever want to go pond hunting?
Such philosophical lines of questioning invariably lead me back to myself and I meandered from inquiring about Koi fish to asking myself questions about my own pond alignment experience. Over the years, I have swum endlessly in both big and small ponds. There were advantages and disadvantages to both. As an entrepreneur, I now have dual pond residency. Accordingly, sometimes I swim in a big pond with some of my business ventures and sometimes I swim in a small pond with others. So, at least for the moment, I am in “pondtopia”.
Conceptually, when it comes to humans, a pond can be anything. It can be a job, a relationship, or even the physical space in which we live. I believe that one of the biggest sources of unhappiness in our lives relate to “pond misidentification”. There are four pond scenarios: (1) big fish in a small pond; (2) big fish in a big pond; (3) little fish in a small pond; and (4) little fish in a big pond. To know which pond is right for you, you must know two things: (1) what size fish you are; and (2) what size pond you thrive in. Two simple questions, right? Wrong. Very wrong. The size fish that you are might evolve – so, too, might the size of the pond you can thrive in.
At any given point in our lives, we will either be a little fish or a big fish. You can also be a big and little fish simultaneously. For example, you can be a big fish at work, a little fish at home, a big fish at church and a little fish on your community board.
There are two types of ponds – little ponds and big ponds. Throughout our lives we will be in different sized ponds at different times or at the same time. Hence you can be in a big pond at work and a small pond at home.
Many of us are most concerned about corporate ponds. Studies show that the average corporate fish changes ponds about seven times during its career life cycle. Throughout our lifespan, however, we also have to make choices about which relationship ponds we want to swim in. We have to make similar pond choices as it relates to the physical space we inhabit, be it an apartment, a house, an RV or a trailer. That’s a lot of “pond”-ering about ponds! As Henry David Thoreau points out, “Men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” When we don’t know exactly what we are after, that is when we make pond selection errors. While pond hunting is an art, not a science, here are a few things to consider in order to make your next pond one that you can comfortably swim in for many years to come:
Select a big pond if you are a big fish or you are a little fish that likes more of an oceanic feel. For these fish, big ponds tend to produce great pride while they are thriving in them. For example, their pride level tends to be higher when they work for, and are doing well in, large, global, reputable firms, replete with big offices and big compensation packages; or when they have relationships with very successful people; or when they live in sprawling, well-appointed waterfront residences.
You should be aware, though, that big ponds sometimes come with big stress. For these big pond seekers, the stress level becomes magnified when the big jobs become politicized and fracture; high-brow relationships flounder; and high maintenance homes go into foreclosure. There is also greater embarrassment because there are more witnesses to such big pond demise. If we’re talking about a really big fish in a really big pond, the demise might make the Six O’clock news. I tell you, little fish love a success story – seeing a little fish become a big fish and find a big elaborate pond far, far away from the little fish pond community. However, some of the little fish also get a kick out of seeing a big fish fall from a fancy pond on high and land right back into the little fish pond community from whence it came.
Select a small pond if you are a little fish or a big fish that really likes the coziness of a small pond. For these fish, small ponds tend to produce greater fulfillment. These fish like the family feel, as well as the instant recognition when they do well, in a small company; or the ease and simplicity of a relationship with a modest person; or living in a space that feels just right – not to mention much easier to furnish and clean. When things don’t work out in a small pond, while there is still pain and hurt, sometimes there is less fanfare – for example, there are no cameras and there are fewer witnesses to the demise from a three-fish corporate pond. Moreover, a relationship break up in a small pond will not receive much national press or burn up Facebook and Twitter. Also, if things don’t work out and these fish have to move from their small ponds, they stand a better chance of finding another small pond, since life has far more small ponds than big ponds.
On the downside, a fish in a small pond can outgrow its residence and, the pond that was once comfortable starts to become stale and limiting. This sometimes happens when the little fish was really a baby whale that rapidly outgrew its pond. Caution: If you are a parent to a baby whale you must occasionally give it exposure to big ponds because one day, despite your love and desire to protect it, you must release it into the wild, boundless ocean because that is where it will thrive. A whale in a kiddie pond might suffocate and perish.
One more word of caution – avoid pond envy. Pond envy is a very bad thing. A really big fish, who actually lives in a very nice pond next to Bill Gates in Hawaii, once told me that “the secret to happiness is looking down not up”. Even though he lives in a to die for pond, when he looks up all he can see are the more sprawling, elevated ponds of the likes of Bill Gates and he then falls prey to pond envy. When he looks down, he sees the myriad of hard working fish that are swimming happily in their ponds. The message is that you should be grateful for whichever pond you are in and avoid the temptation to begrudge someone else of his or her pond. Envy alone does not change your pond. If your work hard and save enough money, maybe one day you can afford a bigger pond.
OK, here is a pond riddle for you, as stated by Elizabeth Gilbert, “A fish and a bird may indeed fall in love, but where shall they live? There are times when you select a pond and seek out a fish to share it with but then you realize that you are in love with a bird. What do you do? If the fish drags the bird into the depths of the pond, the bird will die and if the bird drags the fish into its tree nest, the fish will die. Well, the best compromise is to make sure that the bird can swim. So if the bird is a duck, pelican, penguin, coot, loon, puffin or an anhinga, then the relationship might work. Short of that, the fish would have to come as close as possible to shore, and the bird as close as possible to the water, so that they can catch a glimpse of each other and steal a quick kiss.
The challenge for you today is to think about what kind of fish you really are and ask yourself whether or not you are in a pond in which you are thriving. If you are not thriving, it could be you or it could be the pond. If it’s you, then go look in the mirror and try to figure out what kind of fish you really are or want to be. If, however, this philosophical line of questioning leads you to conclude that the culprit is the pond, then happy pond hunting.