“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Albert Einstein

Back in the early days, before ‘self-help’ was a section in every bookstore and ‘mindfulness’ was the word of the day, there was a fish named Frank. Frank wasn’t your regular fish—he was enamored by trees. He’d gaze at them for hours from his little pond, wondering how it felt to perch atop their highest branches. “Maybe it’s like floating in the middle layer of water, but with more wind,” he’d muse.

Then he heard the quote by Albert Einstein: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Frank, however, took this as a challenge. He thought, “Einstein never said a fish couldn’t climb a tree. He just said we’d be judged unfairly if we tried.”

With that, Frank began his tree-climbing training. First, he’d flop on the bank, wriggling his way toward the tree base. Birds would gather, amused, placing bets on how far he’d get. Squirrels would cheer him on, half-hoping he’d reach a branch and scare away the birds that always took their nuts.

Despite his efforts, Frank never made it more than a few inches. But here’s the thing: Frank learned he didn’t need to climb a tree to feel validated. The simple act of trying, of flopping outside his comfort zone, was a journey of self-discovery. He realized that trees weren’t his forte, but boy, could he put on a show! And soon, the other pond creatures came to watch his attempts, not to mock, but to be inspired by his unyielding spirit.

It reminds me of the time I tried to learn the piano, thinking it would make me cooler. All it did was give me sore fingers and a newfound appreciation for those who can actually play Chopin without sounding like they’re Choppin’ Broccoli instead.

Einstein’s words, whimsically twisted by Frank’s endeavors, teach us something valuable. Genius is not about mastering everything. It’s about understanding one’s strengths, exploring unknown territories, and—most importantly—being brave enough to flop occasionally. Whether you’re a fish dreaming of tree branches or just someone trying to conquer the intricacies of the piano, remember: it’s the journey that counts, not the number of branches you’ve conquered.

In life, we’ll all have our tree-climbing moments. But, whether you ascend to the top or flop after a few inches, remember to enjoy the view and the wind against your scales—or skin, or feathers, or whatever it is you have.

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Brand & Community at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2024 Stephen Boudreau.