What I learned about Business from a Fish

May 15th, 2011

I once worked for a government agency as an intern running errands, delivering mail and typing letters and reports.

I was given projects by many and faced each assignment with energy and a “can-do” attitude. This approach ended up getting me into trouble because I was told it intimated some of the introverted old-timers who didn’t appreciate my spunk.  My supervisor told me to “stop being so happy” and work more slowly.

Stunned, I told one of the women I had befriended about my situation and she promised to show me the ropes.  She kept an interesting fish she had named Gerald in a fish bowl on her desk. She asked me to be in charge of feeding Gerald and keeping his little tank clean.

After classes, I headed to work and straight to my coworkers office to check on Gerald. I dropped fish treats into the bowl and would sometimes stick my pinky finger in to see if I could trick him into thinking it was a treat.  He would eat the treats and then suck on my finger. It became our ritual.

After several weeks, Gerald began to recognize me and would swim quickly back and forth in his tank when I entered my coworker’s cubicle.  Once when my coworker was out of the office, I taught Gerald to play hide and go seek.

I crouched down on my hands and knees and sneaked into my co-worker’s office to reach Gerald’s tank before he noticed.  I popped up in front of his bowl and surprised him. When he saw me, his swim pace quickened. I gave him treats and then stuck my pinky finger in the tank as a kind of human-to-fish acknowledgment of his keen observations.

Leaving her cubicle, I would peak around the corner to see if he was still swimming fast. He wasn’t. Sometimes he’d catch me looking back and as a sort of fish-to-human acknowledgment, make a quick lap to let me know he got it.

I entertained myself for hours by keeping company with the fish and cracked myself up at the absurdity of working slowly to cater to others insecurities.

Several weeks later, one particular commander who had been uncomfortable with my earlier energy asked me to assist with a “special” project perfect for somebody with spunk.

He had been saving newspapers that mentioned certain military projects and he wanted me to copy articles onto standard sized paper.  He was adamant each article contained the headline, reporter’s name, and name and date of the newspaper. He wanted each story to fit on one page so it was easier for him to read.

I attacked this project as if it were critical to national security. I stood at the copy machine for hours and manipulated the newspapers to fit the panel.  I experimented with the “shrink-to-reduce-size” options and fiddled with the paper input and hoped-like-heck the orientation would come out correct. It took me weeks and hundreds of dead trees to get everything perfect, but I became the master of media manipulation, all in name of becoming student-aid extraordinaire.  I had a vision of turning this commander into one of my biggest fans.

When I completed the project, I gave it to the Commander’s secretary with a handwritten note thanking him for the opportunity to make his life easier. I went back to my regular assignments and back to taking great care of Gerald.

The Commander never acknowledged the project and didn’t become my biggest fan, but he later gave me another “great” opportunity that surprisingly shifted the course of my career.  Gerald, on the other hand, let me know daily that my actions made a difference in his world.

I left that job with an important reminder to acknowledge and appreciate people who approach their jobs with spunk. Through my experience with that agency, I learned that people’s issues with spunk have nothing to do with spunk, or with me.  Their issues are about them. I learned that the words “thank you” are the two most powerful words in business and I learned that every contribution, regardless of how large or small, is a gift to the organization.

Later I learned that appreciation and acceptance are Powerful Perspectives – those qualities that begin with awareness and move upward toward love.

 

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6 Responses to “What I learned about Business from a Fish”

  1. Mary Grace says:

    I say “thank you” everyday for the wonderful blessing of you! Your wisdom, words, and ways bring such love and light to the world – never, never, ever stop writing and never, never, ever lose your spunk, sister friend! Oh, and let’s keep caring for fish and turtles and all those wonderful beings that cross our paths!! What lessons for life for us all! THANK YOU, Sammer!!!

  2. Mike says:

    Once again, a wonderful story – the Universe is truly blessed to have you as a writer and a “spunkster” ( I made that up, but I think we agree it’s okay) You are awesome!!

  3. Wendy says:

    What great insight with 20/20 vision, looking back at the past.

    If only we could all continue to look at the world with the fever of youth and not get caught up in the daily monotony and thanklessness, that is in so many workplaces!

    Positivitey will change the world one ste at a time! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Lori S. says:

    But…but….what happened to Gerald…I think you should have snuck him out in your backpack.

  5. Cedric says:

    Almost everyone is happy in the world making the amount of money they do, until they find out the lazy person next to them makes more!!!

    Great story Sam!! As always your perspective is not only insightful, but fun!!!

  6. Beth says:

    You rock girl! Appreciation, thank you’s and reliability (Gerald) go a long way!

    Keep the wisdom coming!

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