“Everyone 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.”
— allegedly Einstein; probably someone else who was no Einstein
Once upon a time there was a fish named Swimster. He had wide, fluttering fins that could push him far through the water with every stroke. He had a narrow body covered in slippery fins that could glide effortlessly through the gaps in the seaweed. He had strong gills to power him along. And more than anything, he dreamed of climbing the highest tree on the beach.
Now Swimster was under no delusions. He knew that most of the successful tree-climbers on the island had hands and claws and lungs. But he had heard stories of hard work and evolution, and had faith that with the right conditions, you can become what you’re not.
So he decided to kick his evolution into gear by enrolling in a class at Ozzie the Orangoutang’s School of Tree-Climbing. As he paddled himself onto the shore for the first days of class, edging into the crowd of primates and amphibians, he tried not to notice their judging gazes fixating on his fins.
He flopped his way across the crowd to introduce himself to Ozzie, who greeted him with raised eyebrow-ridges. “Maybe this isn’t the right place for you,” she said, holding back her laughter behind an air of gentle concern. “Have you ever thought of trying a different hobby–perhaps, the swim team?”
The worst part was that she was right. Swimster knew he would make a better swimmer–he could swim fast and far without loosing a single gill-powered breath. But swimming was something he could do in his sleep, and he was looking for a different type of thrill. He wanted to move up, and not just around. He wanted to feel the roughness of the bark and the pull of gravity, and know that he could overcome them. He wanted to reach new heights and find himself in places he never dreamed possible.
So Swimster looked Ozzie in the eye (with his left eye) and declared, “I can do anything I put my mind to!” he said. She forced an uneasy smile. She wouldn’t say he was right, but she didn’t tell him to leave either.
She didn’t tell him much at all from that point on, but he showed up every day for drills regardless. And over and over, he would dig in his fins into the palm bark to power his way up the first few inches, before sliding down to rest in a nearby puddle.
With time, the inches slowly turned into feet, even if his fins never did. He trained without paying attention to the ambient snickers of his classmates above him. Or rather, he pretended not to pay attention, as he made it his mission to prove each of them wrong. They thought that they could take one look at his fins and determine his destiny? Well he would show them what it looked like at the top of a tree.
One day, he decided, it was the day that he would make the full climb. His now-calloused fins could pull him solidly half-way up the tree before even noticed the lack of oxygen. He prayed that evolution would kick in sometime soon to take care of the non-aquatic respiration thing. In the mean time, he clenched his gills soldiered on.
He was two thirds of the way up the tree, high enough to feel the hot sun and the dry air on his scales. As the surface of his fins got drier and drier, he just gritted his nonexistent teeth and told himself that dryness makes for a firmer grip. He did his best to quiet his quivering gills, and keep both of his side-facing eyes towards the highest branches as he declared with unflinching commitment, “I’m gonna make it to the top if it kills me.”