“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after”
(Henry David Thoreau)
It’s a funny quote this isn’t it because it could be interpreted in a few ways. For me it makes me think of two things.
Firstly, the journey. In today’s society we are so goal focussed. And I’m certainly guilty of this – both as an individual and also as someone who writes on this and speaks on this a lot. But ‘guilty’ is not the right word because being purpose-driven and having a dream and chasing goals around this dream is not a bad thing at all. In fact it is a great thing. BUT, often we spend our whole lives chasing the goal (our whole lives fishing), without realising that it is not in the achievement, but in the activity itself that we find enjoyment, meaning and value. Is the contestant on The Biggest Loser proud of losing all that weight? Of course. But do they also look back and realise they are prouder of the person they’ve become through the journey that enabled them to lose that weight?! Is the Olympian proud of getting to the Olympics? Of course. But are they also proud of the journey and what it took to even qualify and get there?!
Secondly, perspective. When I wrote A Life That Counts and chose the title it was because I wanted to challenge us as to what it means to live a life that really matters and stands for something. I’m all for following my/your dreams and achieving my/your goals. I write about this and speak about this so often. But, they’re just part of the picture of life. They’re not the whole fabric. The purpose of life is far greater than our own personal fulfilment, our career and our own peace of mind. It is not measured solely by an Olympic medal, by a particular goal achieved, by how wealthy you are and what you earn, by how many twitter followers you have, or by public recognition and fame. After all, at our funeral and after we die, it’s not our achievements, our degrees, our bank balance or our fame that people will really remember and speak about. I write more about this in the last chapter of my book. What is it to live a life that counts?
Furthermore, happiness and fulfilment aren’t ‘out there’, they’re within. They’re independent of circumstance and they don’t rest solely on whether we achieve a specific goal. Succeeding in the game of life is bigger than all this. How often do we go running after things that we think will make us happy, only to realise that they don’t ultimately satisfy? The next car. The next job. The next girl or boy. The next drug. The next adventure or experience. We go fishing to catch one kind of fish and realise it doesn’t make us happy, so we try and catch another one. We spend our whole lives fishing without realising it’s not the fish that will make us happy. As a christian, it reminds me of the wise words of Jesus “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world yet forfeits his soul. And what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). For me, Jesus is the only one that could satisfy my heart and fill that God-shaped hole that I tried to fill with so many other things. He is the only one that could fill me with a peace which is unexplainable.
Many men go fishing their whole lives, without knowing it is not fish they’re after. Food for thought.