One Sunday when I was about 12 years old, my grandfather broke the pattern. I’d just won my school’s science fair and an acting award in the same week and proudly told him about my victories. Instead of congratulating me, he sighed and spoke sharply in a tone I’d never heard from him before:
‘You’re screwed kid,’ he said in his light Brooklyn accent, ‘Because you’re smart, but not quite smart enough. And you’re creative, but not creative enough to make a living at it. But if you try to survive doing anything rational like science or business, you’ll get frustrated. It’s a curse.’
His speech took less than 30 seconds. Now, with the benefit of hindsight and a certain degree of maturity, I clearly see that he was projecting his own frustrations on to me and so on. But at the time, I was 12 years old and this guy was a Respected Elder, a source of wisdom, even though I barely knew him.
So his curse became a core part of my beliefs about myself. It seeped into my soul and created a filter through which every idea, accomplishment, and challenge passed. No matter how many people told me otherwise, I believed, at an elemental level, that I was screwed, doomed to a life of being almost good enough at a bunch of different things.
A few days ago, I came across an interesting bit of trivia that provided a great analogy for the impact my grandfather’s words had on me. Back in the day, probably around the time my grandfather was a boy, they had these things called Flea Circuses. You’d look at a bunch of fleas through a magnifying glass and they’d do tricks like jump through hoops.
On their own, fleas will jump incredible distances. So how did they train the fleas with such precision?
When the fleas first hatch, the ringmaster (or whatever we want to call the guy who plays with fleas) put them into lidded glass jars. The fleas would try to escape and bounce off the lid. Over and over again. Jump. Bounce. Jump. Bounce. Eventually they were conditioned to jump only the height of the jar. The ringmaster took off the lid and, voila: trained fleas! The poor little guys never realized that without the lid they could jump as high as they wanted. They’d perform, die fairly quickly and be replaced with other fleas who had been conditioned in the same way.**
Sometimes an offhand remark or the bitter words of a frustrated octogenarian can strike a deep chord that puts a metaphorical lid on how high we believe we can jump. Removing that lid, rewiring the part of ourselves that believes it’s there, takes a great deal of courage and hard work. The first step is to become aware of what your lids, your limiting beliefs, are.
Imagine what could happen if we all leaped as high as our imagination could carry us! No more jumping through hoops! No more ringmaster! Just. . .well, if we follow the metaphor, lots of animals to torment. But you get the point. Try asking yourself these questions to start:
What stories do you tell yourself about what you can accomplish and who you are in the world?
Where do those stories come from?
Are they true?
Take your time and notice what comes up as you think about these questions. You may feel emotions start to move. Or feel an intense urge to do something, anything, else. Rewriting our stories isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it.
Good luck and let me know how it goes!
**Come to find out that this is not at all how flea circuses worked! Click here to find out how they actually did it.