It won’t be easy, but it’s your responsibility.
Once upon a time, there was a little boy who loved the circus. Each night, as he lay in bed, he would count down the days until the trucks rolled into his town. The magicians. The clowns. He adored them all. But what really excited him were the animals — especially the elephants. Their size astounded him and their grace left him in awe.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the circus returned, and on a hazy Alabama night, the little boy ran as fast as he could to the fairgrounds. Realizing he had some time to kill before the show began, the boy clenched his newly bought ticket in the palm of his sweaty hand and walked around the grounds to see what he could see.
As he made his way around the first corner of the tent, he couldn’t believe his eyes: the elephants were grazing in plain sight. They couldn’t have been more than 10 yards away from him.
“Mister, Mister,” the boy screamed as he ran towards the man who was watching over them. “Would it be okay if I stayed here for a while and helped you look after the elephants? I’ve been saving my money all year to come and see them!”
Despite the caretaker’s orders to keep the people passing by, the look of hope in the young boy’s eyes was too hard for him to deny. “Have a seat young man,” he replied. “But make it quick. We don’t want you to miss the show.”
The boy jumped at the invitation and wearing a smile as wide as the sky he quietly took a seat. “You have the best job in the world,” the young boy exclaimed. The man nodded his head and in a slow Southern drawl replied, “They sure are beautiful creatures.”
After a few minutes, the man turned to his watch and said, “Alright boy, times up. You best be on your way. It’s almost showtime.”
“This was great, Mister. Thank you. Maybe I’ll see you again next year?” the boy said as he shook the man’s hand. “That’d be fine,” the man replied. That’d be just fine.”
Just as the boy was about to leave, he saw something out of the corner of his eye that stopped him in his tracks: the only thing keeping the elephants tied to the ground was an old flimsy piece of rope wrapped around a stake that stood no higher than his knees.
“How can this be?” the boy said to the man, motioning with his hands towards the stake. “These elephants are strong and powerful. Surely they can just tear the stake out of the ground and flee. So why don’t they? Why don’t they run free?”
The man paused for a moment. Finally, after gathering his thoughts, he turned to the boy and in a soft voice replied — “You see boy, these elephants have been with the circus since they were babies. They’ve been tied up by these same old ropes and connected to that same little stake their entire lives.”
“But, but, but,” the boy stammered. “Slow down there son,” the man replied, “Let me explain.” The man continued — “When they were little, these elephants were strong. But they weren’t strong enough to break away and run free, believe me, they tried. They pushed and they pulled, and they tugged and they tore but at the time they simply weren’t strong enough to break the ropes. One day, I noticed that they simply stopped trying and to this day they haven’t tried to break free again. You and I both know that these weak ropes and that little old stake are no match for these strong elephants. But they don’t. They could be free. They have no idea how strong and powerful they really are.”
The boy stood there motionless. He was stunned. Finally, with a tear running down his sunburnt cheek he turned to the man and said,
“That’s the saddest story I’ve ever heard.”
Don’t Let Others Dictate What You Can and Cannot Do
When my wife told me this story, like the little boy, my shoulders dropped. This wasn’t only because I felt bad for the elephants. It was also because it reminded me of how much time I had wasted being tied down by other people’s rules instead of having the courage to live by my own.
I was painfully shy as a kid. I hid behind my mom. I was scared of being seen. I used my speech impediment as an excuse and I allowed my teachers to tuck me away at the back of the class, out of harm’s way.
As I got older I began to hate this. I wanted to share my ideas. I wanted to have a voice. I dreamed of being the type of person who not only joined in on conversations but from time to time had the courage to lead them.
Even so, year after year, in the corner I sat. I began to believe it was for the best. I began to convince myself that they were right for doing so. I began to think that I wasn’t someone who was worthy of being heard.
When I graduated from school, the same song played. I saw my peers going out into the world and pushing their limits and taking risks. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to run free. But each time I expressed my dreams a voice would beat me down — “Sometimes it’s best to be realistic about what each of us can and cannot do.”
Finally, at the age of 23, I said to hell with it. I was tired of being looked over. I was sick of being tucked away. I no longer wanted to sit in the corner with my head down. So I did the one thing that scared me the most: I took a sales job.
This may not seem like a big thing for you, but it was huge for me. It represented the one thing I was told I could never do. “Nothing good can come from this!” I was told. “You’re going to make a fool of yourself!”
It didn’t happen overnight, but to everyone’s surprise — especially my own — I began to excel. Strengths I didn’t even know I had started to emerge. 12 months later, I was one of the top salespeople in the office and I was managing people twice my age.
This decision to cut the rope that was holding me back marked the day that my life began. It taught me that I was much stronger than I thought. It taught me that we all have strengths and opened my eyes to the importance of not burying them underneath our perceived weaknesses. Most importantly, it taught me that the only person who has a say in what we can and cannot do is ourselves.
Since that day I’ve traveled all over the globe. With nothing more than a backpack and a smile, I’ve started businesses across three continents. I’ve taught hundreds of classes and coached entrepreneurs and business executives at the highest level. My work has been read by millions of people. I’ve created a successful career doing things my own way.
Living life on our own terms isn’t always easy. A lot of days it’s downright hard. People will try to silence you. Some of them won’t want you to succeed. But this isn’t because you aren’t capable. It’s because they don’t have the courage to do it for themselves. Keeping you small makes them feel big.
Bury your excuses. Live by your own set of rules. Don’t allow the opinions and limitations placed down on you by others to kill your dreams.
We get one shot at this life. So take that imaginary rope that is holding you back and cut that motherf*cker.
It won’t be easy. But it’s your responsibility.