Metaphors Gone Wild: Anglerfish and Change

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Ralph Waldo Emerson used a metaphor to describe the dangers of clinging to a given belief forever: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” This article explores lifetime commitments and the need to let go of them when appropriate and allow change to ameliorate our lives. To be sure, there are some consistencies that should stay with us all of our lives. Our values, our faith, our belief in certain institutions–we would flounder without a commitment to our core values.

On the other hand, if we foolishly cling to a particular viewpoint, only because we have always held it, we may be allowing hobgoblins into our minds. What’s worse, we may be seen as having “little minds.”


Consider the ugly anglerfish, who uses a light to pull potential male partners toward her. Once the connection occurs, the male angler fish bites the female and thus becomes her significant other for the rest of their joined lives. Such devotion may work for couples, although divorce rates would suggest otherwise, but they don’t necessarily work for those seeking to grow, to explore new mental territories, to adapt to the change life is constantly thrusting upon us. In fact, many believe that “when you’re through changing, you’re through,” as Bruce Barton, American author, ad expert, and politician, tells us.


Jack Welch has observed that the beginning of the end occurs when companies’ internal rate of change is slower than the world’s external rate of change. And, included in a list of competencies prepared decades ago by the United States Officer of Personnel Management, is the term “external awareness.” In fact, such awareness topped the list of attributes our government seeks in its senior officers.

The list that follows is designed to better prepare you and your co-workers to better adapt to changes that are on the horizon or are already part of the corporate landscape. Note that many of the questions can be applied to changes that may be looming in your personal life as well.

Discuss your answers/reactions with someone whose insights you respect.

1. What was your reaction when you first heard about the change? Looking back, how could you have reacted better?

2. Did you have negative feelings about the change (such as guilt, fear, anxiety, anger, betrayal, or hopelessness)? How did you cope with them? How could you have coped with them in a better fashion?

3. How did the change affect you personally? What were the advantages and disadvantages? Were you able to objectively analyze the costs and benefits? How could you have done a better job?

4. What were some of the questions that you had when the change was announced? How did get answers to these questions? How could you have done a better job of getting answers to the questions?

5. How did your family react to the organizational changes? How could you have presented the information to your family in a better fashion? How could they have provided you with more support?

6. Were you ready for the change? How did you prepare for the change? How could you make yourself ready for the next change?

7. What support did you receive from your colleagues and your managers? How could you have obtained better support?

8. Did some new opportunities arise for you as a result of this change? Were you aware of these potential opportunities at the beginning of the change?

9. What were some of your loses as a result of this change? How did you cope with them? How could you have coped with them in a better fashion?

10. Do you feel betrayed by your organization? How did you regain your trust in your organization?

11. How long did it take for you to bounce back from the change? What could you have done to make yourself more resilient and bounce back faster?

12. What new professional skills did you have to learn after the change? How quickly and effectively did you learn these skills? How could you have done better?

13. Do you feel more secure in your job after the change? If not, what plans do you have for coping with the next change?


Robert Altman once explained his fascination for fishing this way: “I love fishing. You put that line in the water and you don’t know what’s on the other end. Your imagination is under there.” If you hope to embrace the many personal and professional opportunities life has to offer, you’ll have to metaphorically cast your line many times, in many spots. And, if you pull up an anglerfish, cast him or her off immediately. There are many other growth-oriented fish in the sea.