What I Learned About Fear From a Dead Fish

When I was a young boy, I loved to grab my fishing pole and walk down to the lake at the edge of downtown and fish. This wasn’t worm and bobber fishing for panfish but casting with a daredevil to try and catch a big northern pike.


One evening I was sure I had hooked the biggest fish in the lake. Several other people who were fishing even stopped to watch as I tried to real the fish in with my old, cheap Zebco rod and reel. After several minutes of fight I got it to the shoreline. At ten years of age this was the biggest fish I had ever caught. In my nine or ten year old mind it had to be a five or six pound northern.

I was so proud of that fish that I had to take it right home to show mom and dad. My journey took me right through downtown as I carried my fish on the metal hook stringer. It took me about ten minutes to get home and I showed it off to my family with a grin that stretched like silly putty. I put the fish in the laundry tub with a little water in the basement and planned to clean it the next morning. I slept well that night.

People either build you up or tear you down. As I walked home with my fish I encountered two separate adult men who both asked me about the size of my fish. When I told the first man that I thought it had to be five or six pounds he really shattered the excitement of my big fish. “There’s no way that fish weighs five pounds,” he said with great emphasis. “It’s two pounds at best.” I was pretty dejected. About a block later I ran into another man and told him how big I thought my fish was but then, dejectedly told him what the other man had said. He said to me, “I’ll bet you’re right. I’m sure that fish has to be at least five pounds!” The spring in my step quickly came back. The reality was that the first man was probably more accurate but he sure knew how to bring a guy down. What kind of people do you associate with, people who tear you down or build you up?

Dealing with our fears never goes away until we deal with our fears. The next morning mom asked me when I was going to clean the fish. I had never cleaned a northern before so I was actually afraid of doing it. I heard that if you didn’t do it right it left a lot of bones in the meat. I said I would do it later that morning but I kept avoiding it because of my fear. As the day went on and I continued to find reasons not to clean the fish the pressure from mom got greater and greater. As mid-afternoon approached the house began to take on an interesting odor and it wasn’t a good one. I went and played with some friends in another act of avoidance. When I returned the fish was gone. In my imagination I had tasted that fish and now I would never experience the elation of eating the biggest fish I had ever caught. I still regret not cleaning that fish. What are you avoiding in your life right now that needs to be dealt with and how will it affect you if you don’t deal with it?

Not dealing with our fears affects those around us. When that fish started to smell up the house it wasn’t just me that smelled it. Everyone who walked through our doors that day knew that something wasn’t right in the Cornell household. We often think that avoiding things only affects us but the reality is it affects others more than we realize. Who is paying a price because you’re not dealing with a fear in your life?

What will you do courageously today to face your fear?

This post originally ran on April 24, 2014.


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  • You do such a great job Dave! Keep up your encouraging words.

    • Thank you for your encouraging words, Anthony! I’m glad you find these posts to be worthwhile reading. I appreciate you taking the time to read them and share them!

  • nancy dahl

    Love what you are doing. Thanks for sharing your talents and powerful messages

    • Thank you, Nancy, for reading and commenting. I appreciate your willingness to engage with me on my blog! I hope you are well!

  • rick duffy


    Its a thinkeri

    • Rick, it does take a little thought to get past the title but I appreciate you doing that!