Albert Einstein is famous for his Theory of Relativity and its mathematical equation: E=mc2.

However, here’s another theory that he shared that is even more important and groundbreaking:

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” 

Society has a tendency to grade people early and often. Groups or communities (such as schools, organizations, businesses, social clubs, etc.) feel they know the type of person they want as a full-fledged member and will grade prospects based on how they measure up to that prototype. However, this type of static measurement brings with it the danger of falling short as it neglects various other intangibles that are possibly better markers of promise and success.

History is replete with examples of the failings this fixed mindset has delivered in the realms of politics, sports, academics, entertainment, religion, and even personal relationships. The career arcs of Ryan Leaf and Tom Brady in the NFL are great examples of the folly of standardization. Ryan Leaf was a highly touted pro-style quarterback and a first-round draft pick but flamed out after only four years. Tom Brady’s scouting report landing him a lowly sixth-round draft pick, but he is easily one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, won multiple Super Bowls with two teams, and is still playing after 20 seasons).

The reason why this is on our minds is that this time of year is one of transition for many of our youth. Graduations from high school and college are around the corner, and so many young people are trying to figure out their next best step in life.  Whether deciding what high school, college, or graduate school to attend or what life looks like after schooling has ended, so many young men and women find themselves at a crossroads in their lives. Many of their paths are strongly influenced by grades, scores, and perceptions of whether they fit a certain mold.

Whatever these metrics are supposed to prognosticate, they often miss the mark. That makes sense, as its extremely difficult to measure a person’s emotional intelligence, grit, or heart. The reality is that every one of these young adults has the potential to be successful in their own special way. As a dear friend, Sr. Peg Dolan, RSHM, used to say, “you are a word of God spoken only once.” For that reason, it becomes nearly impossible to measure everyone the same way.  To do otherwise risks what Albert Einstein warns will happen when you grade a fish in its ability to climb a tree.

Standards, parameters, and guidelines have their place, of course. They are needed to keep order as much as they are necessary to help guide us in making tough choices. Our hope is that those decision-makers aren’t just relying on those standards, but also incorporating a more holistic viewpoint in reaching their determinations on a person’s potential. Without a doubt, they have a hard job being the gatekeeper of opportunities. So, our thoughts are with them as much as they are with all the applicants.

Meanwhile, we all have an opportunity each day to promote the hopes and dreams of others by not judging them by societal norms or standards or even our initial preconceived notions of them. Encourage and empower others to achieve their goals their own way. As Albert Einstein might have said, “keep the fish out of the trees and let them swim to their full potential.”

Keep being amazing,

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Orange County Estate Planning Attorney Kevin SnyderKevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an Orange County estate planning attorney and elder law attorney. He is all about family and has a passion for educating his community. He enjoys helping people protect what matters most and inspiring them to be the best versions of themselves they can be.

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