Keep Swimming: a Chinese Folk Tale

The words my father would always say to me whenever I was facing difficulties in life continue to provide me inspiration and strength. Two simple words: Keep swimming. What he meant by these words, whether getting through finals, staying motivated when projects at work were hitting a wall, or relationships were trying, is that I had two choices: keep going and trying, or give up, flounder and drown. It became a personal mantra whenever things got hard, and it still is to this day. I equate success with hard work, and to bastardize Thomas Eddison’s quote about genius, success really is about 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Sure, there are those who get lucky and win the lottery or such, but for the average person, the only way to find success is through hard work. Whether you measure success in terms of relationships, career, or financial gain, all need tending to grow, and that involves work.

So, I was meditating about the swimming allegory, and success, when I had the sudden realization: my zeitgeist was contained in the Chinese myth of the little koi. After all, is a koi fishes’ natural instinct to swim against the current despite the hardship, but it is an instinctive exercise they do to gain extra strength. So, here is the myth of the koi:

Once upon a time the yellow river was full of koi, so full that the whole river flashed and sparkled as the sunlight radiated off their scales. As they made their way up the river, the school of fish reached a waterfall. Many of the koi were disheartened by this new obstacle. They lost hope, gave up, and were carried off by the current. The fish that remained tried to jump over the falls, continuously leaping, and flinging their bodies against the rocks just to fall back into the pool beneath. Some passing demons heard the splashing and came to the waterfall to investigate. They saw the little koi fish trying to leap over the falls and laughed at their efforts. In an act of cruelty, the demons cast a spell on the waterfall, and made it double in height, soaring up into the sky. More of the koi abandoned their quest, and again were carried off by the river current. A handful of koi remained. Determined, they doubled their efforts, soaring high into the sky as they attempted to reach the top. They tried again and again, day and night for 100 years, until one day a little koi finally made a tremendous leap and sailed over the waterfall, landing in the pond on top. The gods were so impressed by the display of courage and determination shown by the little koi that they transformed him into a beautiful golden dragon, free to race across the skies. The falls are now known as the Dragon’s gate, and any little koi that succeeds in making the journey is blessed by being transformed into a dragon.

This gorgeous myth is so popular in China that the koi has been adopted into one of the most prevalent symbols of success. The myth has given rise to a popular proverb: Liyu Tiao Long Men, which means “The carp has leaped through the Dragon’s gate”.

Or, to quote my dad, “Keep swimming”.

Photo Courtesy of fantasystock,

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