The Dos and Don’ts of Being a Goldfish as a Working Mother
If you are like me, around 9:15 p.m., when the last child is put to bed, you are not quite ready to fall asleep, but you are also no longer in the mood to think. In order not to spend hours scrolling my phone, my partner and I made it a habit of turning on the TV while we take care of small administrative tasks (signing up kids for a hot lunch, checking the soccer schedule, some annoying work-e -Answer emails, etc.). Our latest obsession is Ted Lasso, and we were surprised at the balance between laughing out loud and leadership lessons. One thing I’ve been thinking about lately pops up at the beginning of season one and again later: the meaning of being a goldfish.
What does it mean to be a goldfish?
In his infinite wisdom, Ted Lasso Sam tells that goldfish are happy because of their 10-second memory – something happens and they move on almost immediately. (Side note: like many things Ted Lasso says, this is not really scientifically proven. But for today we assume he knows a lot more about fish than he really knows.) In this episode, Ted encourages Sam, a goldfish . Later in the season, after a major loss, so did his team. The point: don’t dwell on things after they happen. Just keep going.
The benefits of being a goldfish
As so often, Ted Lasso has a good point. Usually we are worried about what went wrong – at home and at work. I still remember forgetting Spirit Day two years ago; I worry about the time I was late and whether it scared my children; I wonder if a work colleague noticed that I didn’t stop chatting when I saw her sitting at a table in a restaurant. These concerns get in my way and sometimes affect my ability to focus on what’s next and what’s more important. I hold on to things longer than is helpful and swallow them in my head at night instead of sleeping. If everyone else has forgotten (or maybe not even noticed), maybe I should like a goldfish and forget about it too.
In theory, one of the great things about being a goldfish is that if we are less concerned with our mistakes, we can take more risks. We often shy away from trying something new because we fear it won’t work. Our thoughts go back to the last time something went wrong and how it felt. We’re not testing a new email campaign because the last time we tried something new it didn’t go down well. We are not writing this blog post out of fear that nobody will read it – as we did in fifth grade when our blurb went unnoticed in the school newspaper. We’re not asking for a raise because a former boss said no – 10 years ago. If we can dispel doubts, if we can remember our mistakes, we can do more and get better results. Or maybe not, which brings me to …
The cons of being a goldfish
I’ve worked in startups for many years and we all have similar mantras about risk taking and the value of failure. Fail forward is one of my favorites because it means mistakes and failures are fine. After all, these things happen, but they’re more than okay, and we can celebrate if we learn from them. That’s the problem with being a goldfish: if we forget what went wrong, we may repeat the same mistake all over again. Let’s say I’m late to pick up the kids (this is on my mind because it might have happened yesterday): if I’m totally goldfish and forget that traffic can take a 15 minute drive 45 minutes, I could easy to be late again. Or to take a working example, if my sales team spends a lot of money going to a conference and reports that it wasn’t worth their time, money, or effort, I want to remind them as they plan for the next year, so I don’t do it don’t register again. My goldfish memory could get in the way.
So maybe be a … bird?
It turns out that a lot of birds are pretty smart and good at learning tasks (an article I read says a pigeon can memorize 1,200 pictures!), But I didn’t mind what Ted- For this reason, lasso a goldfish’s 10-second memory away to a bird. Instead, I like that a bird has the ability to see the big picture and give it a necessary perspective. Given what went wrong (or right) and how to learn from it, I think the ability to take perspective is key.
I recently heard a podcast where Brené Brown talked about how she uses the Five Fives to pause and have perspective: Will it matter in five minutes, five days, five weeks, five months, or five years to play? I think being a goldfish is probably right for things that are important for five minutes, or five days, or maybe even five weeks. But for the things that go beyond that? Take a perspective and decide: Do I have to hold on to this mistake to learn from it? Don’t let negative emotions or feelings get in the way and remember the lessons you learned so that you can apply them later.
And now it’s time to get in the car to pick up the school – with a built-in traffic buffer, of course.
Amy Yamner Jenkins is the school and sales director at Outschool, an online marketplace for live virtual education for children ages three to 18, provider of after-school programs in San Francisco, an investor through the NewSchools Venture Fund, and chief operating officer of Education Elements . Jenkins is a frequent speaker at educational conferences and the author of several publications.