The Fish and the Two Buckets

Last summer, I was fishing with family at a lake in Connecticut. We caught some fish, and placed them in a narrow but tall bucket, where the fish were very tightly constrained. We left the bucket on the beach sand, and went back into the lake for some more fishing and swimming.

Within a few minutes, and one after the other, the fish vigorously leaped out of the bucket, and flipped themselves over and over, struggling painfully across the beach sand, all the way until they were finally reunited with the vastness and freshness of the open and cool lake waters.

We then caught some more fish. This time, we placed them in a larger and wider, blue recycling bin, where they had just a little more room to swim around. We also added some rocks, shells, and other decorative items from the lake inside the bin, and left the bin half submerged in the lake water. We then went to get some lunch inside the house.

When we got back to the bin, over an hour later, the fish were still in it. They were comfortable enough in the bin that they didn’t feel the need to try to jump out — even if the wide, open lake was just on the other side of the container wall. All they needed to do was just jump a little bit — but they didn’t.


Humans, like fish, do not like change. Change is difficult and risky. We only choose it as a last resort, when things are so dire and grim that we have less to lose by trying something new than holding on to the little that we have. Mediocrity, a “good enough” attitude, keeps us doing what we’ve always done. It often takes a catastrophic failure to finally jolt us into change.