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The Trout Fisherman in Hell: Lessons in Opposition

fishermanA fisherman dies and believes he has gone to trout-fishing heaven as he catches one perfect two-pound trout after another.

As he sets his fly and hooks into yet one more, he can’t fathom his good fortune. The sky is blue, the weather ideal, the fish biting like he’s never before experienced, and everything is absolutely perfect.

It is not long, however, before the realization dawns on him that he is not in heaven at all. Instead, as the boredom and the pointlessness settle in on him, he realizes he’s actually in hell.

It’s hard to describe just how hard this little parable hit me the first time I heard it. In one moment it erased all my whiny complaints about how difficult and elusive success seems to be.

The trout fisherman in hell story is so extreme, so seemingly ridiculous, that we are confronted with a strange and brutal fact: We may hate opposition and struggle, but it is critical for our mental health. Without the struggle, we would feel no joy in victory.

How can this be? How can it be true that we are actually happier and more fulfilled when overcoming opposition than when everything is easy and simply rolling our way?

It is because of the way we were made. Without a battle to win and an enemy to vanquish, the value of the warrior goes to zero.

In the famous words of Thomas Paine,

“What we attain too cheaply we esteem too lightly.”

If we don’t earn it, we can’t enjoy it.

This is profound, and it ought to provide a telling answer against all those dismal statistics that suggest that the “odds” of making it are too tall.

If we consider only statistics most of us would never get out of bed in the morning, much less find a way to force ourselves to study for that upcoming calculus exam or next achievement in our career.

You see, it doesn’t matter how difficult success is or what the odds are of us “making it.” What matters is our struggle against the opposition, the force of our will against the force of everything that would try and stop us.

Not only does it fulfill us to have something against which to push, but in the process it also makes us better. It is the resistive weight that builds the muscles.

So ultimately, it doesn’t matter if success is hard or not, it simply matters that we pursue it anyway.


Chris Brady co-authored the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Business Weekly, USA Today, and Money Magazine best-seller Launching a Leadership Revolution.

He is also in the World’s Top 30 Leadership Gurus and among the Top 100 Authors to Follow on Twitter. He has spoken to audiences of thousands around the world about leadership, freedom, and success.

Mr. Brady contributes regularly to Networking Times magazine, and has been featured in special publications of Success and Success at Home. He also blogs regularly at Chris Brady.

He is an avid motorized adventurer, pilot, world traveler, humorist, community builder, soccer fan, and dad.

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