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!

The Reward and The Journey

“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” – Henry David Thoreau

A few weeks ago I posted this quote to spark inspiration on behalf of my readers because I know how beneficial such inspiration is to me and I wish to bestow, if I may, the same level of enthusiasm for others as well. While I must be honest in discerning that much of the comments appear spam like, I received some positive feedback from some of you with the suggestion that I write more on this topic. Whether you are spammers or not (which because of language barriers I am not so quick to judge), I feel that this topic is nonetheless worthy of further investigation. Do you agree with Thoreau’s statement? Is what you get by achieving your goals really not as important as what you become by achieving your goals? This is the question I would like to take this time to explore.

What is a Goal?

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Many of you can probably think back to the day you first heard the word Goal. For many of us it was in High School and became the first indication that adulthood was not so far away as we were to define what we wanted of life. From there we set out to plan this trip to our grown-up selves as if reaching into a future calendar. This was easy, for there were so many thoughts running through our heads on what we perceived our lives to be and nothing to stand in the way of it. In a way we were a lot more faithful in our ability to achieve these successes but only because we were also a lot more naïve to the loveless and unfair world that awaited us. It never crossed our minds that the things we wanted was not as willing to accept us as we were so ready to receive it. As the lead administrator of an after-school program at a community center, I experience this with children and young adults almost daily. When I ask them about adulthood it is sprinkled with the same level of innocence; a hodgepodge of careers and successes with nothing to stop the flow of things. I wished I could sympathize with them. That I could share in their joy as if it was that easy, but we all know the reality is that it is not. But then, as young adults, we were asked to break these goals down into halves: short term and long term.


This gave us the ability to understand better the work that would go into actually reaching these goals. For if becoming a doctor was as easy as thought there would be no reason to institute the attending of medical school before actually becoming a doctor. At the same time however, thought is the mental process necessary to first bring forth an action. Ironically, as children we seemed to understand that something is obtainable simply by having a mental desire to achieve it, but as adults this kind of faith is lost to the experiences of life. We’ll come back to this later as trial and tribulation play a key role in this discussion. As not to digress, the organizing of goals into smaller and larger parts helped us to properly understand the power behind the word. We began to understand that a goal is not just something that you are trying to do or achieve, but it is something you are trying to do that you are actually making plans to achieve.



The implementation of goals in one’s life can be a powerful tool. It will allow one to organize one’s thoughts into clear and concise objectives, but you cannot set a goal to do something that you are not willing to put the effort in to get done. Otherwise it’s just wishful thinking, and you’re (as the old folk put it), just talking out the side of your neck. You’re saying a lot of words and you have a lot of ideas but if you’re not putting in the work necessary to bring them to life your just speaking idly and your ideas are useless because they have no backbone. So an organization of goals is critical if you actually plan to achieve them, otherwise they are merely dreams and you’re sleep walking:

• Be written
• Have a deadline
• Be measurable
• Be reasonable to achieve




The first and most important part of any goal is that there must first be a desire to achieve it in the first place. If your goals are written, either mentally or transcribed, it gives you the opportunity to look at it, to understand that they do exist, and to remind yourself of where you would like to be in your life. If your goals are not written or kept at the forefront of your mind in some way it is easy to get lost in all of the everyday traffic of life itself and never make it to your final destination.

Speaking of destinations, make sure that your goals actually have deadlines people (in fact, goals are deadlines of themselves!) If you plan to go back to school for example, have enough discipline to put it on a calendar so you know it’s real. For me, deadlines actually work very well because it gives me the strength to endure because I know I have to get it finished or completed by a certain time. By setting it to a schedule, I am able to better work at it. Each person is different, but I think that if you set a deadline for yourself, you may be able to better work at it as well.

Measurable & Reasonable to Achieve


Yes! This part is important: Please don’t say your goal is to acquire a Master’s Degree at Harvard University when you are still working on getting a GED, got six kids at home and no one to babysit. That may be an extreme example but that’s how serious I am. Make sure that your goals are measurable. It’s the reason we have something called short term goals and long term goals in the first place. Create a system of steps that will ultimately lead to the next step. It is possible you can get a master’s degree at Harvard but make sure you have a High School diploma first. Crawl before you walk and walk before you run. Make sure your goals are accessible; do not place them so far in the distance that it becomes impossible to see them because then you are more than likely to make up an excuse as to why you can’t achieve them. Be real with yourself about who you are and what you want. If your lazy just admit it so that you can create a goal you know you can finish. After this, you can create an even greater goal, but don’t make up all these grandiose plans you know you’re never going to carry through.

Being Better

Each goal is a step and each step leads one closer and closer to that thing sought for. Along the way however are a series of tests, trials, tribulations, successes, and failures. At this point a person decides whether or not they have a true desire to achieve their goals, or if setting them was just something to do in the first place. The question of: how bad do you really want it? Comes into play and one is forced to then make a critical decision: do I abort my mission or do I continue moving forward? How important is it that I continue? Is continuing a personal occasion of mine or must I continue?

If a person decides to continue, he or she will continue to become educated on the ups and downs of the journey. As an elementary school student for example my goal was to simply graduate eighth grade. It was not an ultimate goal, but it was a goal necessary to reach an ultimate goal. But along the way were many failures, such as having to repeat the sixth grade, and failing the seventh until miraculously making my way to the eighth and graduating with honors. The feeling of having “made it” on this small scale was a great event, however the person I’d become having made it was even greater. I did not just have an eighth grade diploma, but I understood better how to carry out the lessons I once knew nothing about. In many ways I was stronger, and more mature. While it seemed sorrowful at the time, I was actually now more ready to enter High School then I was at the time the world told me I was.


Goals are a versatile way to measure how well your life fulfills your target objective, but what you get by achieving them is not the same as what you become. Of everything I’ve been through in my life, my career choice never changed. I knew I wanted to be a writer as a child, as an adolescent and as an adult. In the end, it felt (and feels) great to hold a finished book in my hands, run my fingers across the name on the front and marvel that it belongs to me. To stand there and to say to myself: you did it, feels good and any writer  who says it doesn’t is either a liar or not a writer to begin with. However, the lessons I learned along the way and the lessons I am still learning is priceless; it does not compare. Sure one may get that dream job and make the money they want to make; one may acquire something they’ve waited a very long time to acquire, but nothing can compare to the knowledge, wisdom, and understanding that person has gained having to endure all the ups and downs that came with reaching that point. In the beginning it seems all about the finished product, until we become aware that it was all about the journey and the finished product is the reward for having completed the journey, and we are so much better than we once were. Because of this, what the person gets becomes less important than what the person has become because the person you are after having achieved your goal helps you to better appreciate what you have.



Climbing the mountain is not just about making it to the top, it’s about understanding where and why the stumbling blocks exist along the way; it’s about tripping and falling over those stumbling blocks until you understand how to work around them; it’s about meeting people at the bottom and appreciating how important their position is to the operation and flow of the whole so that when you make it to the top you do not stand above what you are able.

I hope this article has been useful to some of you and that you were able to become better by it. Below is a final list of what you can do to better reach your goals, not just to get the reward (which is great) but to become a better person for having endured the journey (which is even greater).

• List the reasons you want to accomplish this goal
• Identify what stands between you and your goal.
• Identify people and resources, which might be useful along the way.
• Assign dates (deadlines) to each step in the process of achieving a goal.

(**Remember: You must be able to realistically measure your goals. Make sure you can get there!)