Put a shark in your tank
The other day I was updating my calendars for this year and 2019 with upcoming trainings and workshops and I realized I was actually writing down things I’ve been working towards for a while now. It was a moment of deep gratitude and something I don’t take for granted. But, it was also in stark contrast to how I’d been feeling recently: challenged.
Between details not being finalized for one training to not being supported in another, I feel as though I can see my finish line in the near distance, but in front of me there’s hurdle after hurdle after hurdle. It feels daunting, draining and hard. I mean, if things are really falling into place and otherwise working out, I should be able to sit back and watch it all transpire, right?
The trap I found myself falling into – the trap so many of us fall into – is an either/or mindset. In life we believe that things can go really well or they cannot work out, but life cannot be both falling into place and challenging. And yet this was where I found myself, straddling two lines, questioning if I was a fool for thinking things were actually falling into place, or if could simultaneously be challenged and have things work out.
The Shark in the Tank
Many, many years ago, the waters close to the Japanese shore began to see fewer and fewer fish. Not knowing how else to feed the population, a group of fishermen decided to build bigger boats with which they could travel further out into the sea. At first it seemed as if this idea would work as the boats did allow the fishermen to travel further into the sea where they were able to catch fish. But because the fishermen had to travel out further in the sea, it also took them longer to return home. Long trips meant unfresh fish.
“What if we found a way to keep the fish fresh?” suggested one of the fishermen.
And so, it was decided that the fishermen would pack the fish in crates of ice to keep them fresh on the journey home. But the people in the village could taste the difference between fresh and frozen fish and they did not like the frozen fish. Packing the fish on ice did not solve the problem.
“What if we could transport the fish back with us in their natural state – alive?” said yet another fisherman.
With that, the crew decided to install fish tanks aboard the ships to transport the fish home. As the fishermen began to catch fish, they crammed them into the tanks, fin to fin, so tightly. But cramped fish meant unhappy fish and after a little thrashing around, the fish would stop moving. When they arrived for sale in the market, the fish were alive but they were also dull and lackluster. It was a difference the people could taste.
Now the fishermen were really stuck: they couldn’t catch fish close to shore and if they went further out to sea where they could find fish, they couldn’t keep the fish fresh and alive. They began to wonder if the task was even possible to carry out.
Then one day, as a group of fishermen were on a boating trip preparing to catch fish, one man noticed a school of fish spread like a wildfire. Looking closer he saw a shark. It gave him an idea.
“What if we keep the tanks and place the fish in the tanks, but also place a shark in the tank with the fish?” said the man.
The crew looked at him as if he had lost his mind.
The man explained, “You see, I just saw the fish scatter at the sight of the shark, so lively, so alert. What if we could replicate that here? Sure, we would lose a fish or two, but the fish would be active and because they would be active and alert, they would be fresh.”
Having tried every other option, the crew obliged to try this crazy idea. And so, it came to be that the Japanese fishermen caught their fish in tanks with sharks and it was the sharks that kept the fish fresh for the people to eat.
In life, as soon as we reach our goals – we get the promotion, we find the soulmate, we lose the weight – it’s easy to lose passion, the very thing that brought us to the success. Because we don’t need to work so hard, we relax, we settle, we suffice. And we believe the work is over and we can sit back indefinitely and reap the benefits.
Much like the Japanese story, the best solution is simple:
“Man thrives, oddly enough, only in the presence of a challenging environment.”
The fish thrive in the presence of the shark.
We thrive when we’re up against something – something that stretches us, something that makes us wonder if we’re truly going to be able to do it. And it’s that stretch that forces us to grow.
The sharks in our lives keep us awake and moving. They allow us to tap in our full potential and they remind us when we’re coasting in what’s comfortable.
The reality is that even when things in our life are otherwise good, it doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges.
Life is not an either/or situation – either it’s going well or it’s not. Rather life is a messy mix of amazingness and imperfection. To have things working out and falling into place even when we’re up against challenges is a clear sign we’re on the right path and doing the work we’re meant to be doing.
This week embrace your sharks, leverage your strength and know that it’s in this place of challenge that we access our full potential.
What sharks are you up against? Where can you use your challenges to move you forward?