What the 3 Little Pigs Have to do with Happiness and Success, part one (#977)

Remember the story of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf?

Their mother, a kindly sow who wanted only the best for her children, sent them off into the world to make their fortune, warning them that whatever adventures they might have, they must first and foremost find some way of protecting themselves from the big, bad wolf who lived in the forest.

One pig built his house of straw, another from sticks, and one from brick. In the story, as it is most often told, the first two pigs had a victim mentality, lacked the discipline and commitment it takes to succeed in life, and were consequently eaten alive. The third pig, however, was empowered, no doubt due to his vast collection of self-help literature.  Not only did he build his house from solid brick, but when the wolf came down the chimney, he turned the lemons life gave him into lemonade and the wolf into wolf soup.

But did he really live happily ever after? And did the first two pigs really get eaten by the wolf?

Based on my work with people from all walks of life over the past 25 years, I think the story wouldn’t have worked out quite like that. Because even the strongest seeming building materials will one day rot and crumble in the face of the natural world. And if our confidence, security and hopes for the future are built out of temporary, impermanent materials, how can we safely keep the wolf from the door while we seek our happiness and fortune in the world?

1. The House of Straw:
Perfecting the Body

“Makeup can only make you look pretty on the outside, but it doesn’t help if you’re ugly on the inside. Unless you eat the makeup.”
Audrey Hepburn

Some of the clients I work with are incredibly fit, stunningly beautiful or handsome, and seem to have the constitution of an ox. They step out into the world with a sense of grace and charisma, confident that any head they can’t turn is attached to someone they don’t need in their world. They seem to have it all going for them, and in a way they do. Right up until they have a bad hair day. Or put on a few pounds, Or get spotted without makeup or photographed without being photo-shopped. Or get diagnosed with an illness that has no respect for their age, beauty, fitness levels, or place in the world.

The problem with building your house out of your physical attributes is that even the best body is designed to age over time. And while you can fight it with diet and exercise or with pills, plastic, and potions, it’s a battle that you are guaranteed to lose,

2. The House of Sticks:
Finding Mr. or Mrs. Right 

“Men marry women with the hope they will never change. Women marry men with the hope they will change. Invariably they are both disappointed.” 
– Albert Einstein

When a client comes to me with a story about how if they could only meet the right man/woman, everything would be OK, I often share an analogy I first heard from Don Miguel Ruiz:

Imagine that a pizza delivery person comes to your door and offers you a freshly baked pizza. When you ask them how much you owe them, they tell you the pizza is free – you just have to put up with their selfishness and abuse in order to eat it. Chances are you would tell them to get lost – unless you were really, really hungry. At which point you might be tempted to put up with just a little bit of abuse for a couple of slices of pizza. Every time you filled up, you would tell them to leave; every time you got empty, you would invite them back in.

The point of the analogy is not that relationships can’t be wonderful. The point is that as long as you confuse the emptiness we all feel from time to time with a hunger for sex or romance, you will continue to try keep the wolf at bay inside a house built out of a succession of wobbly relationships and makeshift romances. And when the winds of change start to huff and puff, they will surely blow that house down.

3. The House of Bricks:
Making your Fortune

“With money in your pocket, you are wise and you are handsome and you sing well, too.”
-Yiddish proverb

In Supercoach, I shared the following story from my own life:

When I first began working with high-income/high net-worth clients, I was surprised that money came up so frequently as an issue. Men and women with six-figure incomes and millions in the bank were dealing with the same kinds of fears and concerns around their finances as the people I knew with no money in the bank and no income to speak of.I would often hear phrases like:

  • “I don’t want to, but I need the money.”
  • “With the economy the way it is, I don’t know how I’m ever going to be able to retire.”
  • “I have to worry – otherwise I might lose it all!”

Apparently, having a high income or a huge bank balance had little or no impact on feeling secure about money. I actually found this quite disconcerting. I had somehow convinced myself that there was a magic number and that once my bank balance hit it, I would never have to worry about money again.

What finally completely divested me of that illusion was when one client whose net worth was nearly $600 million told me that he woke up every morning wondering if today was going to be the day he lost it all. It finally got through to me that if $600 million wasn’t enough to guarantee financial security, $600 billion wouldn’t be enough either (and neither would $600,000 or $100,000 or whatever other number had seemed to my brain at the time to be more money than I could possibly spend in a lifetime.

What at I learned from “the 600 million dollar man” was that every time people try to use their bank balance to buoy up their confidence, that confidence not only wobbles, it crumbles beneath their feet. And what I’ve seen for myself is that no matter how many bricks I use to build my house, if those bricks are made of gold, I will always be worried about them melting when the heat is on and the wolf is breathing heavily at my door.

So are we just doomed to struggle our way through life, grabbing what odd moments of happiness we can on our inexorable decline towards death?

Do we need to give up on our bodies, our finances, and our relationships in order to find happiness and success in the world?

Is the only way out to become empowered little pigs or more desperate still, join the wolf’s gang and try to make our way in the world by preying on those who are weaker or more frightened than we are?

Fortunately, the answer to all three of those questions is a resounding “no”. Because  the strength of a house is less a function of the materials used to build it than the stability of the foundation it’s built upon. And when we begin to see through the misunderstanding of who we really are and where our experience is coming from, we find solid ground on which to build our lives.

I’ll go into that in more detail in next week’s tip. But until then, here’s something to reflect upon:

How would your story change if you found out that the “big bad wolf” wasn’t real?

With all my love,

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