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It was early fall, and all around a valley, towering trees shone as the bright sun radiated the magnificent colors of their leaves—hues of burgundy, yellow and red filled the crisp sky.
A fisherman stood thigh-deep in the river, casting into the current. All around him—even bumping into the heavy waders he wore—were salmon following the instinctive urge to swim upstream. The river was thick with them, moving as one speckled mass in the salmon run that happens this time of year.
Then, suddenly, one fish broke the surface. It made a perfect arc in the air, strong and nimble even while out of its element. This “flying fish” caught the sunshine, the scales on its back shiny and iridescent.
The fisherman watched in amazement, caught up in the beauty of this outlier.
Then a persistent tug on his line captured his attention. One member of the swimming mass had taken the bait, entrapped by its complacency to follow the fins and tails ahead of it. This salmon now on the hook had opened its mouth at the wrong time, thus ending its journey—cut short before the destination was in sight.
But not so for the flying salmon that had refused to stay with the rest. Some impulse had sent it skyward, bucking against the normalcy and rigidity of the salmon run.
That salmon, the fisherman thought, would be the one to avoid the hooks and nets and hungry bears further upstream. That salmon would be one of the few that made it, surpassing all the rest.
A quote from Norman Maclean, author of “A River Runs Through It,” echoed in the fisherman’s brain: “Nobody who did not know how to fish would be allowed to disgrace a fish by catching him.” This extraordinary fish, borne of air and water, would never be disgraced by being caught—even by a skilled fisherman.
Reeling in his line, the fisherman netted the salmon from the stream and examined it. How ordinary this fish looked—just one of the many, indistinguishable from the rest. He carefully untangled the fish and placed it back in the stream to be with all the rest.
It lacked all the spectacular agility of the one that had leaped out of the water and into the air. The fisherman smiled to himself, grateful to have caught a glimpse of such a magnificent example of the one that got away.
The fisherman was also a CEO. In his day job, he stood in another stream, often surrounded by people who are content to stay where they are. They do what’s expected, but just enough. They play it safe and never go beyond what’s expected, head down, simply following the ones in front. They are the 80 percent who accomplish the 20 percent. They go with the flow, but are soon “hooked” by their own disengagement. They get entangled in the nets of complacency. Today, it seems, for all too many, it’s 5 p.m. not only somewhere, but everywhere.
Then, there are the outliers—the 20 percent who accomplish the 80 percent—who have the hustle and the hunger that allow them to rise above the rest. If only those qualities could be taught to the others! CEOs will hire hunger and hustle over pedigree any day.
The talented few don’t just have jobs, they have purpose; they radiate passion. Especially people who are diverse in thought, experiences and backgrounds—they are incredibly agile around the new and different, and willingly become fish out of water who thrust themselves into unfamiliar environments. Insatiably curious about what is around the next bend, they balance past experiences with first-time challenges. They don’t shy from the rapids or the shoals, nor do they avoid the deep waters where few go. They don’t just cope with change, they welcome and even instigate it. They are the innovators and disrupters who aren’t caught up in the ordinary.
What about you? Do you have purpose and passion in what you do? Or do you simply swim with the stream hoping to be recognized with the countless same?
Rockets didn’t take us to the moon, innovators did. Transformation isn’t the result of a machine, it’s the result of a dreamer.
Find passion in your job. When you do, you will be flying when all the rest are only swimming.