Work is for people who don't know how to fish

Two people on a beautiful shore fishing. Watercolour by Steven Ponsford
Work! Is for people who don't know how to fish!!!
Watercolour by Steven Ponsford

In a culture in which workaholism passes for normal, perhaps one of the biggest illusions we live under is that hard, relentless work will get you where you want to be in life. The truth is, sometimes you work hard and it goes the way you want it to, but a lot of times, it doesn't. 

Work, the tremendous expenditure of energy and effort to produce a desired result, has long been associated with agriculture and tilling the soil to scrape out a living. Fishing, in contrast, is an act of faith. You cast your nets or a line and you wait. You're trusting that the fish is going to show up - in other words, that the provision is going to come, and the timing is up to something other than oneself.

I first saw the expression, "Work is for people who don't know how to fish" by anonymous, on a bumper sticker some years ago. It's weird to say that a "joke" on a bumper sticker gave me an important epiphany concerning Christianity, but it did. It dawned on me suddenly that theologically speaking, the sweat-of-brow, knit-of-brow effort and struggle goes all the way back to Genesis and is the result of the fall: "All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from the ground...By the sweat of your brow you will have food to eat." And what is the essence of the fall? Pride and a lack of faith, perhaps best exemplified in the expression, "It's all up to me!"

After seeing the bumper sticker, something shifted in me. I made the decision to truly cast my care unto God (Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. 1 Peter 5:7. Peter, incidentally, was a fisherman), but that isn't to say I stopped working. Not at all. But my whole attitude on work changed and I relaxed my compulsive grip on it. I wasn't as anxious to get somewhere. Like a fisherman, I took time to note and enjoy all that was around me. Then work felt different and had a different flow to it. And now I was enjoying life, rather than living with blinders on like a work-animal, with my nose to the ground oblivious to everything around me. Interestingly enough, ideas, opportunities, and amazing friendships came and flowed (or swam) more easily into my life (for example, my friendship and project with Julian Moody.) Things didn't go according to my set plans and agendas, but now it was actually better. Most importantly, I was enjoying everything, enjoying work, enjoying life, and enjoying and trusting God.

(Executive coaching pioneer Julian Moody and I discuss hard work in the topic "Does Hard Work Pay Off?" This topic is part of our project Dialogues with Julian Moody: On Life, Business, Sustainability, and Other Things.)

(Posted 10/29/2012)