The Parable of the Crab Bucket


By Staff Writer Published on June 30, 2017

A man was walking along the beach and noticed another man casting his fishing line over the end of a pier. As the first man drew closer to the fisherman, he saw that the bait bucket had no lid, and to his surprise, it was full of sea crabs crawling on top of each other. Knowing the crabs could certainly escape, the man wondered why there was no lid. He asked the fisherman, “Why isn’t your bait bucket covered so the crabs won’t escape?”

The fisherman explained, “You need to understand that if there’s a single crab in that bucket, yes, it could certainly escape. However, since there are so many if one tries to crawl out, the others grab onto it, making sure it can’t escape so it will meet the same fate as the rest of them.”

I don’t know if crabs actually do pull each other back into the bucket, but the principle is certainly true when it comes to humans.

With people, sometimes if one tries to do something different, improve him or herself, escape a bad environment, or dream big dreams, other people try to drag that person down to share their own fate.

And so it may be with many of you.

We have students at Stevens-Henager College who are overcoming extremely challenging obstacles. I receive emails from instructors who recall stories about their students and how they completed the course in spite of difficult circumstances or emotionally toxic environments.

One student in his fourth mod had recently become homeless, car-less and had a baby on the way. After he explained his hardships, he said, “But I keep going back to what was said in CSS 101, about the obstacles and focusing on the goals, finding solutions to the problems and dwelling on the good.”

Another student, in spite of being in and out of the hospital with heart problems, completed her work as she lay on bed rest; she became the class cheerleader.

However, obstacles that cannot be seen are sometimes more difficult. Some of the most inspirational stories come from those who are trying to make lives better for themselves and their families in spite of the voices of those around them telling them how stupid they are for going to school.

Stevens-Henager College has students who have been beaten down physically and emotionally. Or some students’ misguided high school teachers have convinced them they were failures, squelching any desire for an education. And some of you, through no fault of your own, have never felt the satisfaction of success.

And the stories are legion!

In my own life, I was told I should not pursue a higher education because we “are working class people. You get a high school diploma and get a job.” That pronouncement added to the fact that I had been convinced I was not smart enough to get a college degree, led me down a long path of living at less than my potential. I was conditioned to think I did not deserve better. After raising my children, the hope for an education continued to push at my self-imposed limitations. My fears of not being smart enough, not being good enough, or fear of failure was overshadowed by a desire for an education.

"I was conditioned to think I did not deserve better."

A friend obtained information for me about educational resources for non-traditional students. I was frightened. I knew I was not as smart as the younger students. I wouldn’t be able to keep up, and I would certainly look foolish at my age going back to school (I was a grandmother at this point). I also had financial obligations to meet; when would I have time to study? Yet, with encouragement from others, I registered for my first class.

And the voices started!

You just want people to think you’re smart. You just want to think you’re better than others. You just want to show off. You just want recognition and awards.

At times I believed those accusations and was tempted to stop going to school. Other obstacles almost deterred me, as well. Some weeks I would go 36 hours without sleep in order to work two part-time jobs plus go to class and get my homework done.

And the accusations continued!

You’re just showing off; you just want to be better than us.

In spite of it all, I completed my bachelor’s degree and obtained my master’s degree! I did receive the accolades and awards, but I worked hard for them, and they were a validation of my efforts. Was it easy? Of course not! Was it worth it? Definitely. I didn’t listen to the voices of those who were threatened by my wanting to get out of the bucket, and I pushed against those trying to pull me back so I would be as miserable as they were.

"Was it easy? Of course not! Was it worth it? Definitely."

So, whose voice will you listen to?

When others try to pull you back into an environment that will keep you from accomplishing your goals, think about those voices and what they’re really saying. We don’t want you to succeed because it threatens us.

Ignore the voices that are pulling at you. Move forward!

For sure I did not do this alone. I had friends, professors, advisers, children, and university resources encouraging me. Similarly, Stevens-Henager College has various support systems to help you. I encourage you to utilize them in any way possible. When you hear the voices of discouragement, of belittlement, or of “You’re being stupid,” turn to the resources available for support.

Stay in touch with advisors and faculty who are problem solvers with matters such as laptop issues, financial aid, help with orientation, e-books, if you need to drop a course, or anything that has to do with the academic side of Stevens-Henager College. They mainly focus on problems that impede your work. Faculty and staff communicate with each other to assist you the best way possible.

Other ways to help ensure your success:

  • Talk to your instructor about challenges.
  • Take advantage of tutors and lab assistants.
  • Network with fellow students and ask questions on Stevens-Henager’s Facebook page

Remember that homeless, car-less, student with a baby on the way? He wrote, “I am a homeless, straight-A student, but I’ll be okay thanks to all the instructors and mentors who have helped me.”

Stevens-Henager College is the voice of “Yes, you can!” Your determination combined with our support can help extinguish the voices that would deter you from making a better life for yourself, and in turn, allow you to be an example for those around you.

About the Author

Sita Bell is an Associate Dean of General Education at Independence University, Stevens-Henager College’s online sister university. Sita served as the Associate Dean of Freshman Programs at Stevens-Henager College from 2010-2012. She has a diverse background of experience in business and academia, having served as the vice president of finance for a corporation for 30 years.  As a non-traditional re-entry student, she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Utah State University in 2007 and 2009, respectively. She demonstrates to all students that it is never too late to attain an education.