I have read and heard countless fables, clichés, and moral tales over the years, yet here’s one guiding thought that sure doesn’t feel like it’s guiding us any nearer to happiness!
Is it guiding us toward safety? Maybe. Stability? Perhaps.
Consistency? Absolutely! And consistency is awesome…uhhh…unless you’re not feeling fulfilled in your current life circumstance. Consistency is a surefire way to usher in more of the same. More inner conflict. More strife. More discontent. More “meh.”
So here’s a quote. You be the judge if it’s one that serves you…or imprisons you.
“The Devil You Know is Better Than the Devil You Don’t Know.”
~ Irish Proverb
This bit of wisdom, passed down from the 1500’s, provides fair warning about making changes to your current circumstance. It sort of introduces the idea or strategy that, although our current circumstance may be challenging, unpleasant, or simply unfulfilling, at least we know how to deal with it, which takes for granted that it must be better than another drab or dreadful circumstance that you’ve not yet learned to cope with.
But I see this phrase, and its 500 years of wisdom, as standing in defiant opposition to something that I actually find quite appealing. In fact, for me, it’s a critical factor of happiness. This phrase leaves no room for the distinct possibility (or what is see as a likelihood) that there’s not a “devil that you don’t know” waiting around the corner to dash your hopes and dreams…but an angel who’s been patiently waiting to turn those hopes and dreams over to their rightful owner.
I know. I know. You can hear it already. Can’t you?
I don’t know if it gives me a headache first or an upset belly, or if it really just breaks my heart. The excuses! Four words that give me the chills:
“Yeah. I know but..?”
Those four words, and every “But what If” following it are built on foundations of fear, insecurity, and a deep-rooted fundamental disbelief that you don’t actually deserve that angel on the other side. I think differently.
Truth? Call it pollyanna. But with everything that is going on in the world today, racism (I know. Still!) inequality, divisiveness, greed, gluttony, blame, neglect, and so on…I just refuse to believe that we don’t deserve better. I refuse to believe that this is our culmination. I believe that we deserve that angel on the other side. In fact I’ve seen it! It’s there!
I remember reading a story about a young man toiling away on a farm, day after day, only to end up being hurt. Was the injury a blessing? Of course not. Or wait. Was it? When the army came calling, to draft all young men to go to war, he didn’t have to go because he was injured. Oh my gosh! What a blessing. Right? Of course! He didn’t have to leave his family and go to war. But, as a result…did he literally miss his calling completely? Was he a brilliant leader that the world never got to see lead? Was he a budding civil engineer? Or, more importantly in my sappy heart, did he simply never get to meet Claire, the love of his life, as the US battled the Nazis in France?
The point is, so often so many of us stay where we are, in our circumstances, because we’re paralyzed by fear…fear of the unknown.
When I was young I was chronically afraid to just try. I gave up before my first attempt, often before even getting to my first attempt. Thankfully, deep shame, regret, and disappointment in myself for squandering so many opportunities broke me free from unhealthy and unserving habits.
In sharp contrast now, however…if “No” isn’t deeply rooted in the foundation of my decisions…If “No” isn’t supported by timeless principles and values…my answer is always an eager (yet somewhat nervous) YES!
So why, even after rationalizing and understanding everything above, do we continue to believe that God or the universe or both don’t have anything left in store for us other than more compromise, more sacrifice, more complacency, leaving us to drown in a sea of meh?
I don’t want to disappoint people: My mom. My business partner. My husband. The people who helped me get to where I am today. My kids.
Um. Nobody likes to disappoint. Nobody. But swap your shoes for a moment. Walk in the shoes of a loved one as they look deeply into your eyes and your heart and soul. If people are disappointed in you for chasing your dreams, your joy, your passion, your life…shame on them! In fact…do they really love you? I know. That’s blunt! But if they don’t want that for you…
Do They Love You?
This isn’t speculative. It’s a fundamental principle. If someone truly loves you, they’ll be elated and inspired by your willingness to stop sitting behind a desk and start teaching surfing lessons to tourists in Costa Rica. In fact, they’ll probably come down and support you! Wouldn’t you do that for someone you loved? Heck! They might even reach out to a travel agent friend or a high school buddy in an effort to help get you connected in Central America! If they don’t. If they aren’t? They aren’t loving you. They’re needing you…for themselves. That’s a very, very different circumstance.
But what if people are hurt, unhappy, or truly heartbroken with my decision? This one’s easier to address than the prior.
No matter what…people are always going to be disappointed by your decision. Always. If you do this or that…those people will be hurt or unhappy. If you don’t do this or that…these people will be hurt unhappy. If I go work at company A, the people at company B are going to be sad and upset that I’m leaving, after everything we’ve built together. If I stay at company B, the people at company A are going to be angry and dumbfounded as to why I didn’t take such an amazing opportunity.
We often think that people…people we label as “important people” are going to be disappointed in us. In doing this, by definition, you’re labeling yourself as subordinate; somehow less important than others. Their happiness with your choices about your life is somehow more important than your own happiness with your choices about the direction of your life and who you’re going to share it with.
So if chasing your hopes and dreams causes discomfort in some and joy in others…isn’t that tons better than NOT chasing your hopes and dreams and causing joy or discomfort in a slightly different group of others?
Think about this question for a moment before you read on. It’s not rhetoric or semantics:
Is your happiness a numbers game? Is your joy based on a survey of the people you’re surrounded by? Or do you matter enough…do you matter as much as they do to make your own decisions? How can they know what’s best for you? I’m a father of two teenage boys. I…was a teenage boy. I still have no idea what’s best for them. They’re a much, much better judge of their passions and desires and dreams than I am.
Uncertainty. We don’t know how it’s gonna turn out.
AWESOME!!! I love uncertainty nearly as much as I like certainty!
If we didn’t thrive on uncertainty, why would we watch sports? Really. Why? Couldn’t we just watch the absolute best basketball game, golf tournament, or Formula 1 race ever…over and over and over? Why do we get all excited to watch that new blockbuster action movie that’s coming out this holiday season? I mean, the Titanic was pretty good! Rocky! Die Hard! We love the unknown. In fact, in the eyes of Tony Robbins, uncertainty is one of our six human needs, along with certainty, significance, connection (love), growth, and contribution.
We’re often stuck in our discomfort, in fact, we choose the discomfort…knowing how “bad” our current circumstance is, because it’s familiar. We know it. We’ve grown comfortable in our discomfort. Well…I haven’t, but in my humble opinion, too many people have.
Expecting the worst often brings the worst. What might happen if you expected the best?
I want to be a chef or a musician or a dancer. I want to move to Hawaii and work on a boat. I want to “come out” about my sexuality. I no longer want to be friends with this person…but they are going to be disappointed. My parents are going to be upset. My family is going to miss me. My “friend” (the friend that you’re no longer going to be friends with) is going to be lonely.
Don’t subordinate your calling, your joy, your life, your purpose, to what someone else wants for you, or far more likely needs from you. First, you are you. If you aren’t being your true, authentic self…you won’t hear your authentic calling…so you’ll never be able to act on it.
Of course, nobody can promise, not me or anybody else, that making a choice based on passion and care and optimism and hope and faith and reasonable, rational, thorough thoughtfulness is going to pay off if you make that change. But one thing you’re virtually guaranteed of is the fact that if you don’t…you’re staying where you are.
oh but the irony is thick…
at least that’s what you think.
The decisions you make are yours to make. Selfishly, I’d like to see you make ’em for yourself.