You can’t live life on your terms if you’re tied to someone else’s rope

Once upon a time, there was a little boy who loved nothing more than going to the circus. The clowns amazed him and the magicians mesmerized him. But what kept him going back time and time again was the animals, especially the elephants. Each time he saw them demonstrate their strength and power he was left in awe.

One day after the show the boy couldn’t believe his luck as right outside the exit he came face-to-trunk with the beautiful animals.

He ran up to the man watching over them and said, “Mister, Mister — do you mind if I stay here for a while and spend time with the elephants? They’re my favorite.”

The caretaker saw the look of hope on the young boy’s face, and despite his orders to keep people moving past the elephants, he hesitantly agreed and motioned for the boy to take a seat down next to him.

For a few minutes, the boy sat there staring at the animals with a smile as big as a banana. But before he got up to leave he noticed something strange: the only thing keeping the enormous elephants from running loose was an old piece of rope tied to a small stake in the ground — which stood no higher than the young boys’ knees.

The boy pointed to the stake and said, “Hey Mister, how can this be? These elephants are strong and I’ve seen their power and enormous strength during the show. Surely they can just rip the stake out of the ground and flee. So why don’t they? Why don’t they run away and live free?”

The caretaker motioned for the excited boy to sit back down and then began explaining to him how they trained the huge animals —

“You see little boy, these elephants have been with the circus since they were babies and were no bigger than you are today. During their entire lives, they’ve been tied up by these same old ropes and connected to the same little stakes.

When they were little, they were indeed strong, but they weren’t strong enough to break away from the rope and run free. And believe me, they tried. They pushed and pulled and some even tried to rip the stake from the ground with their mouths. They were determined, but at the time they simply weren’t strong enough. They continued doing this until one day they decided to give up and resigned themselves to their fate.

You and I both know that these flimsy ropes and little stakes are no match for these strong elephants. But they don’t. They have no idea how strong and powerful they really are.”

After hearing the story the little boy slumped his shoulders and sat there speechless. After a few minutes, he finally turned to the caretaker and broke the silence — “That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.”

*

The first time I heard a variation of the story above I too slumped my shoulders, and just like the little boy, I thought the story was the saddest thing I’d ever heard.

But this wasn’t only because I felt sorry for the elephants. It was also because the story reminded me of how many people I’ve known who’ve allowed the limitations placed upon them by others to determine how free they run.

More poignantly, it reminded me of my own decisions to play by other people’s rules instead of determining a set of my own.

*

Growing up I was painfully shy. I hid behind my speech impediment and allowed my teachers to put me in the back of the class where they thought I would be safe and out of harm’s way.

I hated this. I wanted to talk. I wanted to share my ideas. I wanted to be the type of person who not only joined in the conversation but from time to time had the courage to lead it.

However, year after year I let them tuck me away, and the more time passed the more I began to believe they were right for doing so. I convinced myself I would never have a voice and resigned myself to being a silent supporter.

When I graduated college the same song played. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my friends and go out into the world and push my limits. But time after time when I expressed these desires I was met with a variation of — “Sometimes we have to be realistic about what we can and cannot do.”

Finally, two years after graduating, I said to hell with it and did the thing I’d always dreamed of doing — I took a sales job.

Looking back on it this sounds ridiculous. But remember I stuttered, and from college counselors to my best friends, this was the one job I was told I shouldn’t and couldn’t do.

To everyone’s surprise, most of all my own, I crushed that job. Within a year of starting, I was managing people twice my age with ten times my experience and was ultimately assigned to train all the new hires.

This experience changed my life.

It opened my eyes to the power of starting.

It opened my eyes to the fact that I was much stronger than I had originally thought.

Most importantly — it showed me that the only person who had a say in what I could and couldn’t do was myself.

*

Since making the decision to prioritize my dreams over the opinions of others I’ve created a successful career out of doing jobs that I’d convinced myself as a kid I couldn’t do.

I’ve started profitable businesses across various continents — most of which have been in the communication sector.

I’ve taught hundreds of classes.

I’ve given seminars to government agencies and multi-national companies.

I’ve coached successful entrepreneurs and executives at the highest of levels.

I’ve started mastermind groups with people I greatly admire.

Hell, I’ve even started a podcast.

I’m not saying this to brag. I’m saying this because I’m proud. And I want you to be proud too.

All you have to do is take that little rope that’s tied to your leg and cut that motherfucker.

*

This article first appeared in PS I Love You (Medium.com)

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