Roald Dahl flips our emotions upside down and back again as we unconsciously wait for the other shoe to drop and then delights us with a happy ending as Mr. Wonka informs us “he lives happily ever after.” Our stories have taught us that reaching for the stars is usually associated with a big fall.
You are being handed the opportunity of a lifetime. All you have to do is take it. So many of us hide in the comfort of mind numbing activities, seemingly paralyzed to live up to what we are truly capable of. We choose safety over greatness and even sabotage our shot at the brass ring.
Abraham Maslow described the Jonah Complex – based on the biblical character whose attempt to avoid his fate wound him up in the belly of a whale. He said “We fear our highest possibilities… we are generally afraid to become that which we can glimpse in our most perfect moments.” Success does have some price, there’s going to be a change and change always entails some loss. With greater success comes greater responsibility, a loss of some freedoms, a loss of anonymity, but is that what’s stopping us?
OK, so we’re partly halted by our fear of being great. As I’ve written about before and as Seth Godin outlines beautifully in The Icarus Deception, we also can hold ourselves back because we fear being a fraud, afraid we will be discovered as faking it.
When my son was in second grade he would keep his homework in his backpack, telling the teacher that he had forgotten it or hadn’t done it. After much exploration he admitted that he was afraid it wasn’t good enough. No amount of math demonstrating that a zero for an incomplete assignment was worse than any low grade he could possibly acquire from underperformance could convince him to take the risk and show his work.
We are held back by a fear of being successful. We are held back by a fear of failing.
The attempt at greatness puts us at greater risk of failure, allowing ourselves to imagine attainment allows us the potential to fall. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
But wait, there’s more. Let’s not forget what we do to each other. In Australia, they have a term called Tall Poppy Syndrome. Poppies which are too tall need to be cut down and people who are too great need to be as well. In my life growing up this was called putting on airs or getting too big for your britches.
So achieving causes public shame, a greater risk of failing, the danger of being exposed as a fake, a discovery that we’re not really that good and greater responsibility as we can no longer hide behind the excuse of being a fuck up.
No wonder we so often choose to hide in the lives of our beloved television characters instead of getting out there and doing it. You have been given the opportunity of a lifetime, it was given to you when you were born and it’s given to you everyday that you wake up. I get that it’s scary but in the words of Maslow, “If not you, then who else?”