When Henry David Thoreau gifted the world with his wisdom, he did so without knowing who would put it to use and who would just pass it by. “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after,” he observed. This is not an aphorism at which to nod nonchalantly; rather, it's one that could change a student’s life if they pondered its depth.
So many times in life we get stuck in a series of monotonous and perfunctory routines without ever thinking about why we do them. Going to class every day; showing up to endless club meetings; writing yet another five-paragraph essay. What's the greater purpose? Are we really doing it just to do it, or is there something more? From this aphorism, we can glean that there is something more to fishing than meets the eye. We fish for food, we fish for money, and ultimately we fish for happiness.
Imagine catching a fish, setting it down some place, and staring it straight in the eyes. Hi, fish. The fish's soul wiggles out of it and it gives you the death stare before taking its final breath. You remain where you are and stare at it some more. It's squamous, slimy, smells like rotten eggs, and something about those piercing eyes gives you the creeps. Indeed, as Thoreau stated, it's not the fish you were seeking after all. No—there must be something else. Right, if you're stranded on an island, you need to eat something or else you'll die. In this case, the fish was your means to survival. (Life of Pi, anybody? Great movie, and even greater book.)
For someone else, a fish may be a means to find their meaning in life. Let's head down memory lane to the first time you read Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea for English class. In this memorable novel, old Santiago leaves life as he knew it to try and relive the adventure of his youth. Like Captain Ahab from Moby Dick, Santiago wants to bring home the biggest fish in the seven seas. In the end, he brings home nothing but the skeleton of said fish. Yet, throughout his adventure in a rickety boat wobbling over the sashaying depths of a monstrous sea, we get to know so much about Santiago that we didn't know while he was sitting around in his living room. When Santiago went fishing, he found himself: his sense of self-worth, his youthful pride, his adventurous spirit, and his sense of purpose. (Kind of like finally finding your perfect major after joining a million extracurriculars or taking different elective classes.)
Although we might not be stranded on an island or old men with an innate wanderlust for the sea, we are all fishers. Every day we wake up with a list of things to do running through our minds. Every task checked off the list is a fish caught. Sometimes the fish are homework assignments, scholarship and college applications, projects, and even discoveries about life or the laws that govern the universe. But all the time, fish are a means to an end, and not the end itself. Remember this on the days you wonder if all this work on the road to your dream college or career is worth it!