The Pursuit of the Elusive But Attainable: A Fish Story, A Pause, and A Reminder of How We’re Built



Tapping who and what you are, as an individual and as a human, is what creativity and life are all about.

Sometimes we need a little reminder in our day-to-day life – a reminder of why we do what we do and who we are. For me, it takes form in a physical cue, a simple pen and ink sketch drawn on aged and yellowing paper hanging in the hallway outside my office. It’s a drawing of a fishing rod and its outstretched line. The image runs the full width of the framed paper left to right, though in total it takes up very little real estate on the paper itself. Interestingly, and fittingly, the sketch doesn’t reveal who holds the rod, or what lies at the end of the taut line. And really that’s the point. As added insurance that I get the point, these words appear along the length of the image in beautiful handwritten script:

The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.

Like most of us with most things, I go in waves of sometimes acknowledging this reminder, and other times foolishly, hurriedly overlooking it. When the latter happens, the reason is simple: sometimes I forget to pause.

The fact of the matter is that, done right, fishing is a pause. Part of the reason is circumstance. Those who fish put in inconvenient hours and a lot of time before every reaching the big moment, if they even reach it. They get up early (as fish seem to feed at very inconvenient times). They put lots of time and effort into arranging their gear and themselves. And then they wait. Fishing, not unlike creating something new, changing circumstances, or realizing lasting value in anything, is a gradual accumulation. If you don’t have time or patience, don’t go fishing.


It’s not just circumstance it’s choice too. As anyone who continues to fish knows, if you stay with the activity long enough you begin to invest in a voluntary pause. You dig in. You prepare to be patient (or at least persistent). And then you hope, one might say you ‘angle’ to get whatever lies below. Even if you don’t consciously label it as such, you deliberately choose to pause. 

But here’s the really interesting thing: you make this choice with no guarantee that you will be rewarded. You do it because of the possible, not the promised – a rare and decidedly human motivation. On any particular fishing adventure you have no earthly idea what lies below, little reliable knowledge of how to access it, and no guarantee of what you’ll go home with. All that time. All that investment. All that pausing. No guarantees. You hope of course, but the hope is in a way wildly unspecific and unknowable. You have a vague idea, reference points, and some basic skills. Maybe. No question, success in this venture isn’t about dumb luck, but it’s not completely formulaic either. It’s somewhere in the wide ‘in between’ where preparation and desire and awareness meet serendipity and flexibility and gut feel – no matter what you’re fishing for.


Why do people do this, that is engage in the pursuit of the elusive but attainable? It’s not just a damn good question, in a sense it is ‘the’ question. Why do we do what we do, that thing that makes us uniquely who we are among all living creatures? Specific answers are both complicated and individual. So I return you to those earlier words, the ones easily overlooked in a busy hallway or a busy life. But this time, allow me to change them just a bit, to broaden them beyond ‘fishing’ to ‘living’…

The charm of living is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.

We are a people ‘trained’ to seek formula, pattern, rules, and routine because we are told, it makes life easier. But we are equally a species that what makes life rich is the possibility of ‘what could be’. Sometimes you have to pause and fish around a bit to see it.


Larry Robertson is the author of two award-winning books: ‘The Language of Man. Learning to Speak Creativity’ and ‘A Deliberate Pause: Entrepreneurship and its Moment in Human Progress’. He’s the founder of two ventures, one for-profit and one non, and a highly respected thought leader in creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship, advising individuals and organizations across a broad spectrum. Larry is a graduate of Stanford University and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and a former Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.

Tags: create, human, individual differences, individuality, larry robertson, robertson, value, wellbeing

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