Expand your learning environment; get into a “larger tank”

There is a species of fish – the Japanese carp, known as the Koi – that will grow in size only in proportion to the size of the body of water it is in. When placed in a small aquarium the fish will only grow to be two or three inches long. If placed in a larger body of water, it will grow to six to ten inches. When placed in a large lake, it can reach its full size of two or three feet in length.

In like manner, your environment can inhibit and limit your personal growth and development. It may be the job you’re in—although you feel secure and the work is tolerable, you’re stuck in a mind-numbing environment and your head is hitting the proverbial glass ceiling. It may be the town you live in—the provincial mentality is stifling. The friends you associate with may be stymying—you may need a more intellectually invigorating group.

But the right environment can stimulate your growth and help you reach your potential. Fortunately, you do have control over this dimension of life; you can choose where you work, you can move to a city that inspires you, and you can choose friends that will stretch you.

To illustrate this idea, I’ll use two of my family members.

After graduating from college, my daughter, Lauren, made some bold moves that placed her in a “large pond.” First, she moved from a small college town in Texas to New York City. She got a nice and adequate job, but after working there for a few years she realized she needed a greater challenge so she went to work at American Express. Soon, AMEX moved her to Singapore for a year, then back to NYC. In the meantime, she completed a master’s degree from Columbia. Can you sense the mix of challenges, thrills, fear, insecurities and joys involved in making these moves?

My son-in-law, Jonathan, is a board certified emergency room physician. He has served two tours-of-duty in the Navy. For one of his assignments he was stationed at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. It was one of the busiest trauma centers in the world. He saw more and learned more in nine months than some physicians would see and learn in a lifetime here in the states. It was a large pond.

Don’t underestimate the courage it takes to change environments and the effort it takes to adjust to and flourish in a new one. It can be intimidating and challenging. You may even fail. But it’s worth the risk and effort. Life is too short to waste; it’s not a dress rehearsal, and it’s the only one you get.

You don’t want this written on your tombstone: Died, 55 years old; buried, 70 years old.

[reminder]Share your thoughts about this essay. [/reminder]


What? – Our personal growth and development can be enhanced or stymied by our environment.
So what? – Beware of the times in life when you are too comfortable and unchallenged. You may need to “get into a larger tank.”
Now what? – Analyze where you are in life. Does your environment provide the room and stimulus for personal growth? If not, what will you do?

Leaders – Do you create environments and opportunities in your organization in which people can grow and develop? Consider each member of your team and customize a plan that will optimize their personal development.

10 Replies to “Expand your learning environment; get into a “larger tank””

  1. I loved this piece, Don! And I agree, wholeheartedly. I often think of the difference between a prairie chicken and a bald eagle. One is content to remain earthbound, scratch for worms and seeds while the other soars high, searches lakes for fish, and enjoys life in a vast world. Thanks! You’re a great model of what you wrote. Keep soaring!

    1. Thanks, Chuck, for encouraging words. I like the example of the prairie chicken and bald eagle; what a difference. Don

  2. I can identify with both creatures. From engineering major to mathematics major to Naval Officer Candidate school/commission with active duty for 5 years to high school teacher/swimming coach to financial adviser to aerial photo salesman to retail store’s office/financial/warehouse manager to installer/implementer/trainer of software products I always was learning and being stretched. I wanted to be like an eagle and sometimes I sored, but I sometimes crashed. If not for God I would not have gotten back up.

    1. Walter; what an interesting life you have lived. I love the diversity you have pursued; it has made you a competent and intriguing person. Thanks for sharing. Don

  3. Don, I have so enjoyed reading your thoughts over many months now, and have experienced stretching many times!

    I must sit and put down my thoughts on one essay last month that sent up a flag. But more on that another time.

    Barbara and I thought of you tonight as we listened to the British hymn, “I vow to Thee my Country,” and recalled you leading the SCC choir in the music; however, the lyrics were different. It was stunning!

    Might you be able to please send us the lyrics when you can?

    Last summer, we moved back to College Station from McKinney, and while we do attend where Christ is well preached, we will never forget the music you poured over us with such grace those some 8-9 years! Oh, do we miss the music!

    Going through moving boxes I came across notes from your Saturday morning seminar for the SCC or Marathon men at your … ? i-place retreat. We washed dishes and had a chat afterward. I counted that event quite a blessing.

    Thanks again for the mind-heart-soul stretching. I need it more than ever!

    In the Path-team with you,

    Bill Purcell

    1. Thanks, Bill, for kind and encouraging words. I am so grateful for the years we had together at SCC. We are blessed at the church to be able to perform good music, well. I’m not familiar with the hymn I Vow to Thee my Country, but will try to track that down.
      I always welcome comments on my thoughts, so keep them coming. Take care, Don

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