Recently, I heard a story about a beautiful tiger who had been rescued from a lifetime in a roadside zoo, finally escaping the cage. The tiger had been there since birth and didn’t know anything about life outside those bars. She spent her days anxiously pacing back and forth along a 12 ft. wall, looking out the bars into the faces of people who were looking back at her.
Finally, the zoo was shut down and the tiger was relocated to an expansive natural habit with acres of rolling hills and an environment that simulated the natural habitat of big cats. The people who ran the preserve watched the tiger carefully to make sure she adapted to her new home. What they discovered is that the tiger continued to pace neurotically back and forth all day in a 12 ft. path despite the fact that there were no longer any walls, cages or restraints to keep her from roaming freely throughout the many acres of land in which she now lived. Escaping the cage in a physical way was not all she needed to claim her freedom.
I have thought a lot about that tiger, especially in relation to how often we as humans exhibit frighteningly similar behavior. We dream of bigger lives, freer lives, lives in which we are able to pursue our passions, spend time on things that matter to us, enjoy new experiences, and grow in all areas of our being. Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? So why don’t we do it?
What Keeps Us in Our Cages
Often it is because we have convinced ourselves that we can’t really have that life, don’t deserve better, or even that we are somehow being irresponsible or greedy to want more. For us, escaping the cage starts with recognizing that we are in one. While we may not be in physical cages, many of us have created frighteningly strong ones in our minds. We have become so ritualized in the equivalent of the tiger’s pacing behavior that we don’t realize we have all the power, wisdom and resources we need to break out and live a life of joy, engagement, inspiration and purpose. Instead we settle, mark time and complain about our situations rather than making a change that would get us closer to what we really want.
Sometimes it’s because we are too afraid of failure to take the risk to change our situation. Being from a big sports family where we only had three seasons each year (baseball, basketball and football), I have seen firsthand how so many people love to yell criticisms and advice to players, coaches and referees with abandon, often in less-than-civil words and tone. Most of them have not played a sport in years, if ever, and yet they feel perfectly free to treat the people on the field in ways they would never treat a person out on the street. That “If it was my team” or “I could have…..” mentality makes it really safe to never have to take a risk while still giving us that secondary sense of having accomplished something. It also increases the chances that we will never go out and actually take a risk in real life, put in the work, and reap the rewards. It’s a different kind of cage, but a powerful one nonetheless.
What is your personal cage?
What is keeping you from moving into the things in life that you may have put on a shelf, perhaps thinking that you can’t grow those parts of yourself and be a responsible person, too? What example are you giving your children as they watch you go to work, come home, be exhausted and do it all over again every day for their whole lives? Where can you refuel, give back, connect with others, be part of something bigger, and feel a sense of purpose? What would escaping the cage look like for you?
Those are some of the questions we must ask ourselves if we ever want to create a life of purpose, personally and professionally. There is a big world out there, often with incredible opportunities and adventures right in our own back yards if we only give ourselves the permission to explore them. It is regularly reported that people on their deathbeds express way more regrets over things they didn’t do than things they did. Will that be the story for you and your life?
What legacy do you want to leave? All you need to get started is your own permission and the steps to get there will come into view – just outside that cage door.
Marketing & Partner Lead