In a commencement speech given by the wonderful author David Foster Wallace, he begins by telling a story about two young fish who are swimming along, when an older fish passes them and says, “Morning, how’s the water?”
As they swim by, one of the younger fish turns to the other and says, “What the hell is water?”
And there’s so many ways that this story can be interpreted or used as a parable about life.
For me, one of the key takeaways is that often we are embedded in a kind of environment that we are so accustomed to, that until somebody else comes along and points it out, we sort of take it for granted or are not as aware of it. It’s sort of like a blind spot.
One of the best ways I know of in life to learn more about those blind spots, a in the story, is to ask other people to share their perceptions of us.
A very talented and smart friend of mine recommends asking other people, for example, what they think makes us happy, what we value, what our purpose is in life.
I have done this exercise a couple of times over the years, and have found it really informative. It is amazing how the perspective of just one other person can help you understand the water that surrounds you.