If You Judge a Fish by Its Ability to Climb a Tree

When I was a teenager, my cousins joked that I had discovered the cure for AIDS. It was their way of saying I was smart because I read a lot.

I even overheard my mother telling my aunt I was special. I got offended because I thought she meant special as in slow.

That’s because when I was a kid, I thought I was stupid.

In grammar school, I was a terrible student. I got straight Fs in the early years. And when we had to take the IOWA Test, I started to get held back. I can remember going to summer school as early as third grade, and I failed sixth grade twice. I failed seventh grade too, but someone had mercy on me enough to add my name to the eighth-grade roster, and that is how I entered the eighth grade.

I honestly cannot tell you what happened. I never learned the details. As far as I was concerned, it was a miracle.

Once in the eighth grade, they routinely removed me from class to go with the Special Ed teacher. My specific area of difficulty was math.

Whenever that teacher came to the door, all five of us would get up and walk out, and everyone knew what for. It was embarrassing, and I felt ashamed.

If I was so terrible at school, how did I graduate with honors with an armful of Creative Writing awards? And how did I end up in ILCA?

ILCA is short for International Language Career Academy. It was a program at my high school where students had to take four years of language instead of two, and all their courses were advanced except for the electives.

By my junior year of High School, I was not only enrolled in all honors classes, but I was also taking courses at Robert Morris College in downtown Chicago.

I would go to school during the day and then hop on the Green Line and go to college at night.

At the time, I was a member of the UMOJA Spoken Word Poetry club, trying out for track, and the only member of the yearbook team.

My schedule was crazy.

I was also on the drama team, where we wrote and performed plays at school assemblies.

At one of these plays, I recited my poem, “Black Beauty.” It was the first time I had ever shared my poetry with the public.

But let me back up just a bit.

I never explained how I went from Special Ed for math to taking advanced math classes…and passing.


My eighth-grade teacher discovered I knew how to write, so they built my assignments around writing.

I excelled.

I excelled so much that I passed math, graduated with honors, and was placed in an advanced High School Program.

There’s an old saying, usually attributed to Einstein, that goes something like:

I was this fish. I used to think I was stupid.

Something in my brain just did not click. I didn’t even learn to ride a bike until I was nine years old.

At the time, The Robert Taylor Projects were considered the poorest urban community in the United States, second only to Cabrini Green. We did not ride bikes. We made tents out of dirty bedsheets, seesaws out of bed railings, and rollercoasters out of shopping carts.

Ain’t nobody have money for bikes.

And even though I’m a full adult now, I still get anxious about math and count slower than most.

People think I’m book smart, but the truth is it wasn’t until I focused on what I was good at (my purpose) that I started to do well.

It was never about being smart, but I was also not stupid. I just needed to find what worked for me, even if that meant I had to work harder than others.

The Point

Passion is connected to purpose. Those things you love to do (with or without payment), has a lot to do with what you are called to do.

Some of you are struggling with something, and it’s not because you are stupid or slow or incapable.

It could just be because you are a fish, trying to climb trees because that’s what everyone else is doing.

Find you some water.

I am Soul is 99cents through February. If you have read this book, be sure to leave an honest review on Amazon!

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I write to restore Black Historical Truth for the freedom of all people. Visit me online at yecheilyahysrayl.com and @yecheilyah on IG and Twitter.

11 thoughts on “If You Judge a Fish by Its Ability to Climb a Tree”

  1. What a great story and oh so true! We compare ourselves to others, when really we may just need a little help figuring out what we’re good at! I’m so glad you did! Thank you for sharing such an inspirational story!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. LOL ” FIND YOU SOME WATER.” ::insert a and you know dis’ look::

    This reminded me of an animated movie titled, “All creatures BIG and SMALL.” The entire time, they were trying to board the ark, run away from the flood that was coming. Couldnt figure out why their names were on the list. So they tried to sneak on. Come to find out they were animals that were built for the water. Could swim and all. Never knew their purpose. I won’t tell the story lol Great write up!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great inspirational story. I think the problem lies in the education system. Everyone is supposed to achieve in the same way–get grades in academic subjects. Do subjects you’re not good at, don’t like and are never going to need.
    Only last night my husband and I were talking about our children, nephews and nieces and grandchildren. There are 6 who have excellent brains, but opted out of going to university. Why? Because of the system.
    I don’t know the answer, but it’s a waste of good brains. Yes, they all have jobs and are doing OK.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I still have problems learning and retaining info is hard for me. Books I love are easier to remember but even they fade with time. Everyone thought I was the smart one cause I started college first. Never finished. Now, they’ve passed by me while I struggle to do what I love: write. That purpose keeps me passionate and striving. I guess that’s all that matters.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We all learn and process things differently. They may have passed by you, but they didn’t pass by you! We are each on our own journey, so what they are doing has nothing to do with where you are going. Keep writing! I am sure you are doing great.

      Liked by 1 person

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