Foxes, Space Princes, and Taking Ourselves Too Seriously
After I reached my first big-life-goal, comparison and busyness had me take my career (and myself) a little too seriously. An Aesop fable and French parable remind me why I create in the first place — to play in life as a regular human.
Three months ago, I reached my biggest life goal to date. I launched my own creative, location-independent business to make a difference for social good companies. I stood on the summit of my achievement and wondered… now what?
After working with several clients and experiencing new-found freedom, the possibility of creating an even bigger life went to my head.
So, I time-blocked my priorities and got up at 5:30 am. I used a habit tracker, and my coach reminded me that businesses without systems and data (which I did not yet have) are just hobbies.
If that wasn’t hard enough to swallow, I then saw a beautiful photo of my favorite Italian Vogue editor working on an eco-impact project in Capri. Right there, I compared myself to her success. I realized my wins so far were just the first pebble of a mountain-sized big life.
I broke a little bit. My internal conversation had dissolved from heartwarming wonder and awe to brain blistering criticism. How will I ever get there?
Here are the fables that helped.
The Fox and the Grapes
One hot afternoon somewhere in Portugal, a handsome fox decided to try vegetarianism.
Really, it was just very hot, and the fox had been walking in a vineyard that smelled delicious. He spotted a bunch of grapes and decided, “those grapes are mine.”
He jumped, but his tail was too heavy to jump very high. He tried climbing the vine, but the branches were too thin and they bent under his weight. He thought he could pull the lithe stems toward the ground, but they were fixed to the vineyard’s trellis structure above his head.
The fox was completely mocked.
“Fine.” He said, with his nose in the air. “I don’t want grapes anyway. And vegetarians are morons.”
Unlike the fox, I do not think vegetarians are morons. But I do have a similar internal dialogue at times. In my head it goes something like, “Fine. I’ll just work harder to get the grapes I want, until the vineyard becomes a hydroponics center. Then I’ll be mad about missing the boat on disruptive food production technology and go do something else. Without grapes!”
It’s a victim dialogue in my head, as if my identity and my performance are one and the same thing. What a joy-suck.
Absurd Little Humans
If our performance and our enjoyment of life is directly related to our mindset, then protecting our thoughts from seriousness and significance is mission-critical. When self-important, urgent and critical thoughts seep into my brain, laughing at the absurdity of it all helps.
If that doesn’t work, then drawing normal occurrences in space seems to help.
Apparently, Antoine de St. Exupery thought the same thing. He wrote a book about a prince from space, Le Petite Prince, to address grown up and self-important mindsets. If you haven’t read this story, put a bookmark in your Tim Feriss book and listen to the audiobook here.
Here’s an excerpt on taking oneself too seriously.
Flowers and Matters of Consequence
After crash landing a plane in the desert, a troubled pilot meets a small child in outlandish clothing. The pilot learns that the little prince came from a small planet called Asteroid 325 (people on Earth call it Asteroid B-612). The little prince tells him of his home, his miniature volcanoes and his rose. He left his beloved rose under a glass while he travels to see how grown ups think.
The little prince had not been impressed with the adults he met. On one occasion, he stops on an asteroid to talk to a business man perched at a large desk. The man looks concentrated, with papers everywhere. He’s writing furiously. He tells the little prince that he’s counting the stars and therefore he owns them. The little prince is confused.
“What do you do with them?”
“I administer them,” replied the businessman. “ I count them and recount them. It is difficult. But I am a man who is naturally interested in matters of consequence.”
The little prince was still not satisfied.
“If I owned a silk scarf,” he said, “ I could put it around my neck and take it away with me. If I owned a flower, I could pluck that flower and take it away with me. But you cannot pluck the stars from heaven…”
“No, but I can put them in the bank.”
“Whatever does that mean?”
“That means that I write the number of stars on a little paper. And then I put this paper in a drawer and lock it with a key.”
“And that is all?”
“It is enough.”
“It is entertaining,” thought the little prince. “It is rather poetic. But it is of no great consequence.”
On matters of consequence, the little prince had ideas which were very different from the grown-ups.
“I myself own a flower,” he continued his conversation with the businessman, “which I water every day. I own three volcanoes, which I clean out every week (for I also clean out the one that is extinct; no one ever knows). It is of some use for my volcanoes, and it is of some use to my flower, that I own them. But you are of no use to the stars…”
The businessman opened his mouth, but he found nothing to say in answer. And the little prince went away.
“The grown ups are certainly altogether extraordinary,” he said simply, talking to himself as he continued on his journey.
Small actions taken every day to tend to our various flowers and volcanoes do not us give international, universe-bending importance. And, it seems freeing to be of no use to the stars, but to have all the space needed to tend to our own little asteroids of things we love.
Humbly Altering History
Leonardo Da Vinci personally altered the course of human science, thinking, and creativity. He was hired by kings and lords to dress holy places with scenes of angels. He was a relentless perfectionist.
And, in all of his creation he wrote one conclusion:
“If there is no love, then what?”
You can keep the grapes, the stars, the pressure and the importance. If there is no love, then what?
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1
Footnotes: Life hacks to take oneself less seriously.
- Watch a Wes Anderson movie. If you were a very exaggerated version of yourself as a movie character, what would you look like and say?
- Write a haiku about your present frustrations that ends with the line “refrigerator.” The format of a Haiku is 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables.
- Locate 3 round fruits or vegetables with skins (banana, orange, avocado, onion) and draw a face on them. Sit them on your counter or desk.
P.S., Please comment with your movie characters, haikus, and oranges with faces. I would love that.