“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will spend its whole life believing it is stupid.” ~ Albert Einstein ~
Though this quote is not new and has been circulated many times through many different avenues. It is a quote that remains most impactful for in my life. I came across it very early in my career and because it struck such a chord in me, I continue to hold it with high regard and live by it daily, both professionally and personally.
The original printed copy I thumb-tacked to my office wall, years ago, still remains displayed in my home office today. It remains displayed despite its coffee stain. Despite its bent and tattered up condition and despite my need, to really just replace it. Though, I do now have it displayed in a frame. It, however, has weathered the storm with me through life and career, far beyond any awards, certificates, plaques or trophies I received and have now packed away. I am proud of these items and the achievements they represent but they do not compare to the meaning of that simple quote.
There have been times throughout my life in which I was ‘counted out’ or ‘singled out’ both professionally and personally because I think differently or have taken a path not conforming to societal norms. My family jokes that I have ALWAYS gone to the beat of my own drum. But, going to the beat of your own drum creates a means for others to judge and count you out, before given the chance to prove yourself.
Let me explain. I have ADHD and an extremely empathetic soul. At times, my empathy for others manifests itself through worry and anxiety. I refrain from saying I suffer from ADHD and anxiety because I have now learned to understand and embrace both as a strength rather than weakness, but none the less, my mind does work differently from others. And as you know, ‘different’ oftentimes opens the door for someone to judge and then through the act of judgment people are placed into a box in which beliefs and ideals are projected onto them.
I am also one of the “original” teen moms, having delivered my amazing son many years before the MTV show ever aired. I was 16 when I had him, and because of my young age, I endured extreme scrutiny. I was called horrific names and told I would never amount to anything. People counted me out and I had not yet graduated high school. Worst of all, because I was young and suffered from low self-esteem, in part due to my ADHD, I began believing the labels and the names people were saying to me. I let others place me into that ‘failure’ category, and I stayed there quietly, for quite a long time, not believing I could do better.
The turning point in my life came when my dad passed away, and I was forced to fend for myself financially. I had to get out and provide for myself and my son. I no longer could rely upon my dad to shelter me from the storm.
Despite my lack of confidence, an insurmountable urge to succeed began to take hold in me. Likely due to a subconscious desire to prove everyone wrong, including myself. When I found this simple quote, things clicked for me and I began to gain confidence in myself. It became my daily reminder; I am a genius, I just can’t climb a tree.
In my career as a Human Resources professional this quote also serves as my reminder to refrain from doing onto others that was done onto me. I am deliberately intentional to not put anyone into a box and continuously encourage others to the same. I believe leadership is one’s ability and mindset to view, accept and understand the uniqueness in others, thereby placing them into a position in which they can flourish, develop and grow, both professionally and personally. Thus, creating a trifecta of met needs between those who lead, those who follow and the organization in which they all work. Leadership is not about title, pay-grade or seniority. It is about serving others through the offering of grace, humility, growth and the acceptance of others to achieve an overall goal. It’s about learning that a fish is better suited to swim and letting the monkeys climb the trees.
My friends and family will continue to poke fun at me for my differences. There will also be people who will judge me because my mind works differently or because I was a teen mom. You may be doing so right now. Are you? The truth is, however, I will continue to look at the world through my rose-colored glasses and as well as encourage others to do the same, in order to see the genuine and true genius in everyone.
We have all faced some degree of disenfranchisement throughout our lives and understand the effect it has on us. My goal in sharing my story is to elicit thought around what we may be projecting onto others. Don’t put people in a box; ever. Don’t count out the abilities of others. Open your mind, and see the glorious beauty all wrapped up in embracing and accepting these differences.
I challenge you when dealing with others throughout your day, to ask yourself; am I making a fish climb a tree? If the answer is yes, then stop. Open your mind, and let be.
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