Reframing our fishbowls

There is a myth koi grow to the size of the tank they live in. Turns out this partly true, in the right conditions they’ll keep growing until they die. There is no end to their growth cycle.

Imagine we’re all live in fishbowls, and the size of our aquatic home is determined by our wealth. Now take those fishbowls and line them up from smallest to biggest.

It’s easy to treat wealth a bit like being a koi in a fishbowl, we adapt to our circumstances. There’s always a little hurdle we want to overcome, something we want to achieve or acquire. It’s easy to look at the bigger fish in the next bowl up and think “I’m not rich, not like that fish in the next bowl up.”

This isn’t because we want more. We strive because it’s externalized survival in an age where we’ve escaped the razor’s edge our ancestors endured for thousands of years of subsistence.

I made this fishbowl analogy one day when a friend who owns a growing company told me, “I’m not rich.” Everything about his life said the opposite. He flew his family on vacation a couple of times a year, had a big house, drove a nice German car on a company lease. There was no way I could afford his life on my budget. I told him so and as we talked it became clear it wasn’t that he didn’t feel rich. His friends were people who were better off than he was at the time. He still lived on a budget and couldn’t retire, so he wasn’t rich yet.

Our aspirational nature keeps us from looking back and remembering that at one point we thought everyone in our current circumstance had it made. This isn’t a universal experience. Some people don’t expand their definition of wealth as their own increases, and some of our fortunes falter or never grow at all. The fact remains, most of us don’t look back and think about our good fortune. We look ahead and think about how we’d be set if we could just add another 50% to our annual income.

Getting over the fact other people know more than us

This same idea comes into play when we learn about something like business or being a good parent. We look to the people more advanced and think, “I’ve got so much to learn!” We forget there are millions of people looking at where sit and thinking “Look at them, they’ve got so much experience and knowledge.”

During my first junior college experience I took a music theory class. The teacher was my choir director and he heard us complaining about how hard ear training was to master. He listened for a few minutes and during a lull of the conversation he joined in.

“You know one day, you’re going to be in a situation where people are going to look at you as an expert on music because you’ve taken a class like this one. They’ll think of you as someone who’s had training, and they won’t know you barely passed and couldn’t tell a major 4 from a minor 6. It won’t matter, because you will be an expert compared to them, because you’ve been exposed to this information and for whatever you remember it will be more than they’ve learned.”

He paused for a beat…

“Remember this is how they feel, because even if you don’t feel like an expert you owe it to them to share what you’ve learned. Your experience gives you expertise those people will want to rely on.”

Those five minutes are five of the most valuable minutes of my time in college. There will always be someone who knows more about a subject, but I can still share what I know to help other people in the right place and at the right time.