You wake and realize that you’re stuck in a dark room.
You cling tightly to a broken plate whose edges keep cutting your hands. Whatever is on the plate stinks and from the vague sense of wriggling, it probably has maggots.
Across from you, from under the door, you can see a crack of warm, welcoming light. There’s music playing, and you can hear happy laughter. It sounds nice in there. If you just stretched a little bit, you could reach the doorknob and open it. You could go in the room. By the scent, something delicious is cooking. Your stomach growls.
You’ve become accustomed to this dark room. It’s familiar.
You hate the smell, but you’re almost used to it. The broken plate you cling to may hold maggoty gruel, but you know most of the edges by heart, so it doesn’t cut you so bad if you hold it right. And if you concentrate, you can choke down the gruel fast enough before it makes you gag.
Plus, if you opened the door, you’d have to let go of the plate you know so well, and you’d have to get up, and cross the little dark space, and stretch out your arm and open the door to the unknown. That’s a lot of discomfort. That’s a lot of unknown.
Most people stay in the dark room their entire lives.
Thanks to Evolution, there is nothing more natural to human beings than fear. And fear, while it can keep us alive in a lion attack, is very bad at helping us be happy and reach our potential. When opportunity knocks, you better believe that our old friend Fear is going to leap up and remind us of how where we are right now isn’t really all that bad, and don’t we know how many things could go wrong. Like our friend Voltaire once said, “uncertainty is uncomfortable.”
Don’t be like most people.
Don’t let a 100,000 year old cave man brain deny you an amazing adventure. Yes, be clever and cautious. But if you have an amazing opportunity, and every cell in your being is screaming that this is for you, that you deserve to better yourself and have new experiences, don’t let Fear con you into accepting the comfort of familiar miseries.
Drop your maggots! Get off the fetid couch! Shake yourself off and lunge for that door. It’s like an old friend always told me – “really now, what’s the worst that could happen?” If you have fun or learn something, you didn’t fail.
See, the Monkey’s Paw is what happens when you put some candy in a coconut with a tiny little hole in the top. Most monkeys will smell the candy and reach in to grab it. But when they make a fist around the candy, they can’t get the paw back out, and they are now trapped; they don’t realize that if they would simply let go of the candy, they would immediately be free. In other words, the only real “trap” is their blind greed for the candy; they are free all along.
You know, if Life has tried to teach me anything, it’s that all of us (each and every one) are as free as we believe we are, as we allow ourselves to be.
So if you’re anything like me and you face one of these decision points that often crop up in work, dating, dreams, money, and more — when you find yourself trapped between Opportunity and Fear — let me offer a little advice from my own many mistakes. Open your hand and drop the damn coconut, get off the stinky couch, and drop that wriggly, maggoty gruel.
I have virtually never regretted when I gathered my tiny courage and taken a leap, even if I stumbled or fell on my face, because the adventures and memories and lessons were so very much worth it, and they made me a better and more interesting person.
On the other hand, I have almost always regretted when I listened to Fear and denied myself something wonderful and interesting. The older I get, the more I am under the impression that Life, while sometimes annoying and capricious, truly does want to give us what we need, to make us happy, and to help us grow. Fear, by contrast, is very often nothing more than a used car salesman; it lies easily and has anything but your best interests in mind.
When in doubt, open that door and go join the party.
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