One of the most interesting things I’ve learned over the past twenty years of coaching clients is how often people’s stated goals are more reflective of their secret fears than their heartfelt desires.
More often than not, a bit of deeper inquiry into your goals will reveal that you want more money because you’re scared of running out, you want better health and a trimmer figure because you are worried about dying (or even worse, your partner leaving you), and you want to be in a relationship because you can’t stand the thought of being alone for another year.
Now this is not necessarily a bad thing – focusing on a goal instead of a problem is definitely a step up the ladder that takes you from victim to creator in your life. It’s just that it also guarantees that while some of the details of your life may change, the limited you that creates them will essentially stay the same.
Oh, you might look better naked, and you might be sharing a nicer bed with a nicer partner in a nicer home – but the fears that have been driving you forward will make sure that you never relax into the comfortable womb of contentment that you thought reaching those goals would afford you.
It was one of my own coaches who pointed out to me that while I had created a masterpiece with my life, I had done it on one square foot of a canvas which stretched 50 miles wide. In other words, I had done a beautiful job of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and made sure that MY prison cell was the nicest on the whole block!
So how do we escape from the prison of our own thoughts and begin to explore the vast uncharted territory that lives beyond our fear?
The secret lies not in setting different goals or taking different actions,
but in seeing who or what it really is that’s doing it.
The Lion Who Thought He Was a Sheep
Once upon a time, there was a baby lion who was born into the world alone and afraid. A family of sheep found him in their home in the green grassy valley at the bottom of the mountains one day, and because he was so beautiful and because they were so kind, they decided to raise him as one of their own. It was his sister, who had a highly developed sense of irony, who suggested they name him ‘Leo’.
So they taught Leo the baby lion how to walk as a sheep, and talk as a sheep, and taught him all the ways of sheep, and they loved him with all of their hearts. They taught him to fear what all sheep fear, and that whatever he did he must stay away from the mountains, for lions lived up there, and no sheep who had ever gone up the mountain had ever returned.
Eventually, Leo became so good at acting like a sheep that even his own family forgot that he was really a lion. Sure, occasionally some of the other sheep teased him for his unusual size and his bushy haircut. But Leo did what he could to fit in, and he made good friends, and eventually he became a good, productive member of the sheep community.
The years passed uneventfully until one day an old lion from the mountains came down into the green, grassy valley in search of food. Leo was the first to sense his presence, and as soon as he yelled “Lion!” all the sheep began to run in panicked circles. In the midst of the chaos, the old lion noticed Leo.
“Hey, you!”, roared the hungry lion.
“M…m…me?” whimpered Leo, terrified but at the same time fascinated by this magnificent old creature.
“What are you doing here with all these sheep?” the old lion demanded.
“They’re my family,” said Leo proudly.
At this, the old lion laughed. “Then who are you, young one?”
“I’m Leo, and I’m a sheep”, Leo bleeted.
Suddenly, the old lion’s face turned fierce. “Come with me!” he roared.
Leo didn’t want to go with the old lion but he thought that by doing so, he might save his fellow sheep. So with a last look back at his herd, he followed the old lion off into the mountains.
They walked for many miles until at last, high up in the mountains, they came upon a beautiful crystal clear lake filled with smooth, blue water. The old lion beckoned for Leo to come to the edge of the lake. By this time, Leo was exhausted – not so much from the climb, which he found surprisingly easy, but from the constant fear that at any moment, the old lion would eat him. So with a final reluctant ‘baaa’, Leo made his way to the edge of the lake and looked where the old lion’s paw was pointing.
To his amazement, he saw not a sheep, but the reflection of a strong young lion. In that moment, he knew who he really was and let out a mighty roar that shook the mountains all the way down to the green, grassy valley…
After the shock of discovering his true identity, Leo realized that he was hungry – really hungry. And grass just wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Fortunately, Leo knew where he could get food, and plenty of it.
But when he got back to the valley to where his old herd was still grazing, he stopped in shock. For what he saw was not a herd of sheep, but a pride of lions, each one grazing and bleating and acting for all the world like sheep. It was his own mother who saw him first, and though Leo could see that she herself was a beautiful lioness, she cowered in fear, not recognizing him and bleating “Lion!” at the top of her lungs.
“Mother!”, he roared, but the sound just made the sheep/lioness run even faster amongst the increasingly agitated herd.
Finally, Leo noticed that his sister was looking at him with a faint hint of recognition, and he knew what he must do. He put on his fiercest face, and he roared at her “Come with me!”. And though she was afraid, she followed him on the long journey up to the clear blue lake in the mountains…
Will this be the year when you realize that you are not who you thought you were?
Will this be the day when you recognize that you are enough, not because of what you’ve achieved but because of who you really are?
Will this be the moment that you STOP – and recognize that there is nothing you need to be, do, have, learn, or change in order to be happy, complete, and whole?
This doesn’t mean you can’t have goals or you need to give up and “go with the flow” – just that when you recognize that who you are has nothing to do with what you achieve, a lot of what you thought you wanted tends to drop away and creating what’s left becomes a whole lot easier.
Have fun, learn heaps, and contemplate the words of William Blake:
I see through my eyes, not with them.