“Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
This phrase from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu has been around for hundreds of years, and embodies a universal truth and teachable principles that is held today.
I was brought up on the second part of this phrase – that by teaching a man how to fish, he’ll be able to feed himself for a lifetime. That’s just my paraphrasing of it, the meaning is powerful. The essence of this phrase sums it up like this – be self-sustaining, be self-disciplined, and be self-managed – these three maxims revolutionized my life. Instead of always depending on others, you should learn and employ the skills you need to meet all of your needs.
One should know the skills one needs to become independent and self-sufficient.
First, a self-sustaining person, you need little help or assistance to reach your personal targets. You can meet your own needs and decide the pathway you need to take to reach the next level. When learning a new skill for example or a new language, decide on a target you want to hit. Decide on the next level, this is self-directing your future. You are in charge.
Today, many rely on our government to survive and meet their needs for food, water and shelter. Most obtain their daily fish themselves; however, others take advantage of public programs for their own selfish gain. Becoming dependent on others for aid or support for long periods steals away your independence and self-worth.
My mother raised a large family without my father, not because she didn’t want him to be around, but because my father was an alcoholic and abuser. His dependency was so evident to her that she refused to let him break up a peaceful home, nor allow him to influence his children’s by perpetuating his bad behavior. I once read an old saying: “Don’t depend too much on anyone in this world, because even your shadow leaves you when you’re in darkness.”
My mother would not accept any handouts, because she hated the ideal of dependency. Now all her kids have grown up to be professionals in their perspective fields, and their hard-working ethic can be attributed to our mother. My mother taught us the art of fishing, so we could all be self-sustaining and self-sufficient throughout our lives. Sometimes all you need is to trust your own ability and strengths.
Secondly, self-discipline means your mind and body motivate your spirit to move towards the results you want to realize, free from the constraints of conformity and tradition. This can bring about a shift in your long-term circumstances. A self-disciplined life moves you towards your destiny. You make choices that line up with your goals – even down to what you wear, who you hang out with, and what foods you eat.
Third, a self-managed life boils down to this: you are taking full control over your talents and abilities and moving towards your true purpose in this life. You have a special destiny and purpose that requires self-sustaining abilities and self-discipline to reach. Self-management involves becoming reliable in all aspects of your life and moving towards success, your own set of personal goals. Every step, every decision, every action moves you towards your ideal self. Earl Nightingale said it best: “Success is the realization of a worthy ideal.” For example, if you desire to become a teacher, learn everything you need to know about that profession. Get up every morning to study for certifications, read books on the subject, get a mentor. Discipline your life daily, manage your life consistently, and soon you’ll realize that you’ve arrived.
Thomas Edison, the great inventor and innovator of the 20th century, embodied these principles when he invented the incandescent lamp. It took him over 10,000 tries with different materials to come up with a filament that could last for many hours. Thank God that Edison had the self-discipline to continue his pursuit of a long-lasting light bulb – if he hadn’t, we all might still be sitting in the dark, and reading by candlelight.
So learn the art of fishing. Become self-sustaining, forge your own path, and move towards your destiny.