Current Issue
This Month's Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

6 minute read

What A Trapped Bird Teaches Us About Getting Where We Want To Go

We all hit a wall once in a while, but should that dictate the next move? Author Jen Sincero explains how eliminating excuses can improve our outlook—and our productivity.

"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."
—Albert Einstein; scientist, awesomist

I was hanging out in my sunny California home one morning, reading the newspaper with the doors flung open and the stereo blasting, when all of a sudden a bird came tearing into my living room. He was flapping around like a maniac, flying into lamps and plants, spreading leaves, feathers, poop and panic all over the place.

In an attempt to escape, he kept slamming himself into the window while I feebly chased him around with a flip flop, trying to guide him back towards the open door. It was awful to watch—the poor guy was all panting and wild-eyed, his little birdy heart no doubt about to explode with fear while he threw himself over and over again into the glass at full speed.

I finally managed to escort him outside to freedom, and then spent a very bothered few minutes calming my own little-birdy heart while I revisited the scene of the accident. I imagined his confusion and frustration: "I can see the sky! It’s right there! If I fly hard and fast enough I know I can reach it!"

It made me think of the way so many of us live our lives. We can see what we want, and nearly kill ourselves trying to get it in a way that’s not working. Meanwhile, if we just stopped, got quiet for a minute or two and looked at things a little differently, we’d notice the door to what we want being held open for us by the nice lady in the bathrobe across the room. Then all we’d have to do is fly through it.

Oh, the drama we create for ourselves!

We’re so deeply wrapped up in our stories—I don’t have the money, I’m not good enough, I can’t quit my job, I’m lazy, I have bad hair—trudging through life with our heads down, clinging to our false beliefs like lifeboats full of doo-doo, that we prevent ourselves from seeing the literally infinite sea of possibilities and opportunities surrounding us at every single moment.

Have you ever walked down a street that you’ve walked down a million times and suddenly noticed a house or a tree or a mailbox or something else totally obvious and in-your-face that you’ve never noticed before? Or have you ever suddenly become aware of the eye color of someone you’ve known for years? Or have you ever looked at your mother and thought, I was inside of that woman once!? All this stuff didn’t suddenly appear and then you noticed it, it was there all along, you just weren’t experiencing it because your focus was directed somewhere else.

Here’s a cool exercise: Right now, look around wherever you are and count the number of things you see that are red. Take about a minute and count them all. Now stop, look back at this page without taking your eyes off of it, and try to think of everything around you that’s yellow. There’s probably a ton of yellow, but you didn’t see it because you were looking for red.

What you choose to focus on becomes your reality.

And that’s just an example of what we’re not noticing that we can see. There’s also an infinite amount of emotions and thoughts and beliefs and interpretations and sounds and dreams and opportunities and smells and points of view and ways to feel good and responses and non-responses and things to say and ways to help. Yet, because we’re so set in our ways and committed to our stories about who we are and what our reality looks like, we only scratch the very surface of all that’s available to us every single moment. Meanwhile, we’re totally surrounded by countless awesome versions of reality, and they’re all just hanging around like a bunch of shy teenage girls at the prom, leaning against the walls, waiting for us to ask them to dance.

As the poet William Blake so eloquently stated: "If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite."

So... why would you create anything that’s not totally awesome? I mean, we’re only talking about your life here. If you chose to get over all your reasons why the money you so desire is evil or your identity as someone who’s scared of intimacy or your attachment to a plethora of other excuses that you perceive to be very serious and real when they’re really probably kind of cute and ridiculous—you could literally create any reality you want.

Whenever I become impressed by a particularly creative array of new excuses I’ve come up with, or start to organize an elaborate pity party for myself, I turn to Ray Charles. I don’t often listen to his music, but I always think about Ray when I need a kick in the buttinski. He was a broke, blind, minority who was orphaned by the age of fifteen and raised in the "colored part of town" in a time when slavery wasn’t all that distant of a memory, and he went on to become one of the most influential and successful American musicians of all time. Basically, he wasted no time on excuses.

Any little woe-is-me-ism that I try to hold up against Ray instantly wilts into the sniveling little "nice try" that it is, and I’m forced to look upon my life, and my excuses, with a new perspective. Really? You’re really going to let that stop you?

All you have to do is make the choice to let go of everything you’re so attached to that’s not serving you and manifest the reality that you want. Life is an illusion created by your perception, and it can be changed the moment you choose to change it.

Our entire experience on this planet is determined by how we choose to perceive our reality.

I know. As if. It can’t be that easy. If it was that simple, how could I possibly have spent all this time banging my head against the glass wall of my own self-created ho-hummery?

But before you get into a bad mood about it, remember: All this stumbling around in the realities we pretend to be stuck in is very valuable because it allows us to grow and learn and evolve—rough seas make better sailors—but you get to choose how long you want to stay in school and work on the same issues over and over and over. Your graduation cap and gown are cleaned and pressed and waiting for you whenever you want to put them on, all you have to do is let go of your present story and rewrite a new one that fits who you truly are.

Excerpted with permission from You Are A Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, available this month from Running Press.

[Image: Flickr user Jade Deakin]