Have you surrounded yourself with catfish?
That may sound like an odd thing to say, but it could save your life, or empower you to have an amazing one. Let me back up a minute and share some context.
In 2010, a documentary film came out called Catfish (watch the trailer here). The movie documents a guy, Nev, meeting and falling in love with a girl, Megan, who he met on the Internet. After numerous canceled attempts to meet up with this girl, Nev decides to spontaneously drive to where she lives. Unfortunately, his arrival illuminates a tragic situation with Megan and her family. Nothing is as it seemed, and the entire relationship was a fraud. At the end of the movie, one of the family members shares the story of where the film gets its name. You can watch this clip, or read the transcript below to know the story.
"They used to take Cod from Alaska all the way to china and keep them in ship vats. By the time the vats reached china, the flesh was mooshy and tasteless. So this guy came up with the idea that if you put these cod in big vats, put some catfish in with them, the catfish will keep the Cod agile. There are those people who are catfish in life, and they keep you on your toes. They keep you guessing, they keep you thinking, they keep you fresh. And, I thank God for the catfish because we'd be droll, boring, and dull if we didn't have someone nipping at our fin." - Vince Wesselman
Thanks to the way the universe is, we've got many natural catfish to keep us agile. For example, we need to provide for our needs, things decay, and we're surrounded by other people who have their own agendas. There is an abundance of catfish around to keep us moving forward and to help us develop character. Some are invited while others are ones we'd like to go away.
Unfortunately, complacency and success have a way of shielding us from these natural catfish.
With the heavy burden that comes with providing for my family, having student loan debt and other family responsibilities, I get tired of these catfish nipping at me.
Let me out of the tank so I can take a break!
While we all want relief from this tension, we need to make sure our relief is only short lived. In other words, let's take time for rest and release, but let's make sure we don't eliminate every catfish in our life.
The key for successful people not becoming delusional is to continue simulating catfish in their life when it's not required. I say this as someone who has been comfortable in the midst of success only to find my neglect of business and relationships leading to serious problems. While the difficulty of our work can feel frustrating when we're not making progress, it can also act as a powerful and positive force keeping us on the right track and preventing us from causing harm.
There is a story in the Bible about a man named Job. Job goes from huge success to losing everything and facing immense suffering. Three of his friends go back and forth about why this is happening, and his friends blame his suffering on some sin he committed. Eventually, a young observer (Elihu) steps into the conversation and shares the following message exposing Job's lack of perspective and Job’s friend's ignorance.
"Suffering may be decreed for the righteous as a protection against greater sin, for moral betterment and warning, and to elicit greater trust and dependence on a merciful, compassionate God in the midst of adversity." - Summary of Elihu’s words, via Wikipedia.
While suffering and adversity can many times be brought upon ourselves, it also acts as a wonderful gift. As Elihu shares his message, it's clearly a catfish mechanism. It’s one we can easily struggle to find value in because it feels like we've been robbed or we don't deserve it. At the end of the day, it takes experience and perspective to truly embrace the catfish concept. But once we do, our lives are changed.
An Uninvited Catfish In My Life
In the middle of our final year at Noodlehead Marketing, I made the decision to shut the company down. Combined with several other factors, I was hit like a semi-truck of emotion as I faced panic attacks and a roller coaster of anxiety and depression.
It lasted prominently for three months, but eventually, with the support of God and my community, I got up and moved forward. As I walked upwards and against the metaphorical river flow, my strength and focus increased. I was much better as a result of this trial by fire.
While this anxiety or subsequent depression is no longer as strong or dominant in my life as it was at that time, there are still moments and days where I’m faced with these mental and emotional forces. They’re a helpful reminder of my limitations and need. It’s an unpleasant but invited humility check to recognize how dependent I am on God and community. We can’t do life alone.
This force also helps me recognize my limitations and desire to take on more than I can realistically handle. With my personality, I’ve historically lived an overcommitted life doing more than I want or should. But, It’s part of the reason I’m now more deliberate and iterative in my commitments.
In addition to my anxiety catfish, I also experience challenges living and guiding my chaotic family, working with stress-inducing company founders, getting sick, forgetting about a scheduled meeting, or dying in my habit management system (Habitica) to name five examples.
My mindset is geared to look at and lean into this tension as a way to grow myself, help others, and move us all forward towards a common vision. My vision for you is to embrace these catfish and learn how to leverage them for positive outcomes.
How You Can Embrace The Catfish
So let's say you buy the concept of keeping catfish around you in life, what are practical ways of embracing this level of accountability? Here's four ways you can surround yourself with catfish.
Personal Accountability With a Tool Like Habitica: This tool gives me visibility into my habits, things I need to do daily, and one-off actions. Habitica scores me and provides penalties when I drop the ball. But, it’s much better to pay a penalty in a software than it is in real life.
Peer Accountability Through a Small Group or Contrasting Friendship: While it’s uplifting to surround ourselves with people who encourage and celebrate with us, we need also to surround ourselves with people willing to challenge and ask us questions, even when we resist. Groups and strong friendships contribute to this level of accountability.
Elder Accountability in a Coach or Mentor: There’s always someone further up the metaphorical life stairs who could shed valuable insight and perspective to help us grow. Ideally, we’re in a relationship with a well-grounded and value-centric leader.
Sharing Our Wisdom With Others: As we journey up the stairs of life, there are those who are behind us. As we progress, we can help them succeed. And, there’s a hidden benefit about teaching, it helps us better understand and anchor what we know.
To embrace Catfish entirely, hold yourself accountable, be in dialogue with peers, submit yourself to guiding authority, and give insights to those following your footsteps. Each of these relational dynamics provides us with different pieces of the perspective pie. Doing all four will ensure we have a complete picture to learn, grow, and lead.