I enjoyed playing in a local stream as a kid – catching fish and other creatures. I’m sure I also terrorized them in my ignorant pursuit to understand their world. That curiosity was passed on to my daughter. A couple years ago we bought a catfish – about 4 inches long. We watched as it explored, learned when food was coming, found ways to hide. There’s something so peaceful and interesting about watching a fish.
Two or three years later that fish was growing up. It was now 18 inches long! The filter couldn’t keep up. The water was always cloudy. He would bump the glass. He jumped out once, knocking the cover right off the 50-gallon tank. He had long since eaten all of his smaller friends.
It was time. We planned to let the fish go in a local river. We got a large container and my daughter took him out of the tank. Splashed clothes, a two-mile trip to the river, and a bittersweet goodbye brought the catfish chapter to a close.
You may wonder what this all has to do with fulfillment. The other day I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, who is a 5th-grade teacher. She was pondering what may be the next step in her career.
“I want to be someone who makes a difference….someone who can improve the life of others. Doesn’t matter my title.”
I asked her “do you need more meaning? What is missing?”
“Maybe leadership would be more fulfilling? I feel like I have more to offer. And I’m not being used to my full potential by being a teacher… “
I asked her if the feeling of not being fully useful developed over time or if it had always been there. She confirmed that it developed over time in her role and she had considered looking for a new role.
I told her about the catfish – how he began at 4 inches and grew to 18, becoming too big for his container, living in an increasingly constrained environment. I told her that he had tried to jump out and even ate his friends. And, I told her that fish, like people, continue to grow. As they do, some stay stuck in their container attempting to jump out while others may get put in a river, like our friend the catfish.
I told her that it sounded like she needed a bigger container. She agreed, and I encouraged her to get moving before the environment became toxic and she ate all her friends. 🙂
We are all aware from time-to-time that we are capable of more. The feeling tends to develop as we become proficient, recognize constraints, see opportunity. We may begin to complain or become resigned to our situations. Yet, certainly in our professional development, we have significant options to change! In fact, it’s likely we feel constrained because our skill set has outgrown our present responsibility and authority. We know we could do our current job for the rest of our lives, but it suddenly is no longer enough. Quite simply, we outgrow our containers.
If we stay, we may feel like we’re suffocating, like we can’t move. We may inadvertently create a toxic environment because it’s just not built for us anymore. We likely all know what that feels like.
It is at this time that we need to decide whether we care to change the environment, change ourselves, or carry on while changing nothing. Ideally, we have some wise people around us who will speak truth to us. If you’re feeling professionally constrained, take inventory to understand more. Ask yourself …
What is it about the situation that is contributing to me feeling constrained? The feeling that we need to change something is an indication that there’s a problem we’re looking to resolve. What is the problem? Be specific.
What is in my power to change to accommodate the growth I need? Sometimes we don’t have the power to change our environment enough to accommodate us. Many times we do. Knowing what is in our power to change, and then getting about doing it can lead us to a liberating path of growth.
What am I unwilling to do to feel like I’m no longer stuck? Figuring out what we want to do is frequently harder than figuring out what we are unwilling to do. We want the big job a city away – but we are unwilling to leave to go there. What we’re unwilling to do will control what we are willing to do.
I assume our catfish is alive and well, and probably much bigger than 18 inches by now. We enjoyed our time with him, and though it worked for a while, a growing catfish belongs in a river. Maybe your current container has been good for both you and your employer, or maybe it’s time to leave and get a bigger container. Only you truly know. But, once you do, go with it…