Which oxygen mask will you choose?
Last time I wrote about death. Doing so brought another question to mind: why is it that, even though we know we're all dying, and our awareness of mortality can in fact inspire courage, many of us still only seek safety? We are even willing to, and often do, settle for less in life only to be safe.
I am not talking about physical safety here.
We spend a big chunk of our lives following all kinds of rules, fearing punishment, experiencing guilt because we did not live up to the expectations of others, and chasing all kinds of things that are not really life-giving, at a deeper level. Yet, we still do it because we've been taught to seek emotional safety.
Going out on a limb means we might get hurt, so somehow we'd rather stick to our cocoon than grow our proverbial wings and fly. And yet, we all talk a big game about being brave, daring, and overcoming obstacles.
I was having a conversation with a friend the other night who was sharing all kinds of plans for the future.
I asked him, what are you afraid of?
He deflected my question with more bullshit ... sorry, more carefully crafted, if deeply disorganized, narrative that fits his safe view of the world but robs him from living up to his potential.
I asked him if he knew about cognitive dissonance.
Then, something clicked.
He realized that he'd spent years—YEARS—following narratives that gave him just enough to feel satisfied, but not enough to thrive.
What did he do, what happened?
He entered the dream-like state of delusion, an experience most of us live in, where we cannot let go of our past narrative but think tomorrow will somehow be different, yet we are scared to take chances, and instead stick to the very safe, very comfortable. Even worse, we convince ourselves, like my friend did, that what we are doing is our bliss.
No new ideas are pursued, things we truly love are shuffled, our inner desires stored away and stifled, and life not lived; we exist, but existing isn't the same as living.
This conversation made me sad because I realize just how many of us fail to live out our true bliss. (It's more than 75% of people in America.) It really is unfortunate.
And so, I have a quick exercise for you.
Some of you who've read my first book, Own It, may be familiar with the oxygen mask metaphor . . . you're on the flight, you must first give yourself oxygen (i.e. take care of yourself) before you can help others.)
I want to use that same metaphor in a different way.
Imagine you had to make a choice between two oxygen masks, described below, which one would you choose?
1) An oxygen mask that will drop right in front of you and will drip oxygen in, giving you just enough to survive, but never giving you what you need to fully, wholly fill your lungs. Your lungs will not expand to their natural potential, but you will live. This mask will last the length of your flight, although other unforeseen circumstances might cut your flight short.
2) An oxygen mask that will fill your lungs completely, so much that you might even experience a high, and have enough to give to others, but this mask comes with a catch: it's not right in front of you. You have to get up, leave the safety of your seat and (potentially) your companions on the flight (unless they want to come with), and march down the isle, probably experiencing some turbulence, running into all kinds of people and possibly getting their drink spilled on you, and maybe even getting hit here and there. This isn't a safe choice exactly, but it will fill your lungs to the proverbial brim.
Which one will you choose?
A little bit of oxygen is a little bit of happy. In fact, it's just enough to have an illusion of happy, to run around pretending to be happy while wondering, consciously or unconsciously, what could be or could have been, as most people do. But are you really happy?
It's too high a price to pay for non-commotion, non-confrontation, a false sense of stability. It's how fear wins over courage, mediocracy over greatness.
In the latter example, your hard-fought oxygen mask in one blast will give you more oxygen and more life than the drip one will for the whole lifetime. But this one comes with a risk of hurt, discomfort, abandonment, and loneliness. Of course, there's also an entire new world to gain.
Ultimately, it is about the quality of "happiness", about the quality of our lives.
Is our desire for safety keeping us stuck?
Are we holding ourselves to lower standards just to stay put?
Whenever we take a little bit, we will always feel lacking and wanting more to sustain us, but if we take it all, and we know we got it all, we're forever. We've reached our full potential, we are living our bliss.
How do you know which mask you are currently pursuing? Pay attention and the answer will reveal itself. If it doesn't scare you, it's the first one.
In life, in those defining moments, we have choices to make: it's when we use our full potential, in any situation, that true, authentic fulfillment comes in.
Don't die with your potential, to be better, to grow, to take chances and make changes; don't die without being emptied of all possibility.