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As a little boy, I loved going to the circus with my dad. It was Saturday and we stood in line in front of the animal tents, waiting to buy a ticket. I noticed the elephants were right in front of us. I always loved elephants and have been fascinated by stories of their wisdom, memory and strength. That particular day, all the elephants were tied up to a single stake in the ground.

I asked my dad “Why don’t the elephants escape?” He smiled and looked at me with his kind, gentle eyes and said “They can’t, they are tied up. And besides, where would they go? They have food and water, shelter and friendship here at the circus.” He seemed satisfied with his answer but it left me troubled.

I then asked “With one single tug they could pull up that stake in the ground and just walk away. Why don’t they do that?” I said considering how that elephant would be much more fun to take home than a turtle, my usual circus take-away.

“They can’t, son. They don’t know how strong they are. They think they are tied down and believe they are trapped by that little rope.”

I shut up and stood there, imagining what I would do if I were the elephant.

I wondered how to tell the elephant how strong and powerful he really was. I watched with sadness as the elephant just did what the trainer wanted and did not have any elephant fun. I fantasized about what I would do if I were the elephant and knew how powerful I was.

The Elephant’s Dilemma

I have been thinking about that elephant most of my life. I would never want to be so powerful yet so trapped.

This is the elephant’s dilemma:  Strong and powerful but not knowing it, the elephant is trapped by an illusion of confinement in an imaginary cage.

Once, they were held by unbreakable chains until they learned they couldn’t get free. Then weaker ropes were substituted for the chains, but the elephants had already given up on breaking free. Now, just a thin cord tied loosely to one foot and connected to a small stake in the ground is all it takes to “trap” the elephant into believing he’s still being held tight with chains that no longer exist.

The Elephant’s Dilemma is our Dilemma too.

Personally, it’s troubled me when I look back and see things I could have or should have done but didn’t because I didn’t know my own strength. Luckily and with persistence, I’ve overcome most of those feelings and have lived a successful, fulfilling life as a result. It’s sometimes a struggle because I still don’t realize how much more powerful I really am.

I bet you don’t either.

Would you be interested in exploring your own power, finding the limits to your unimaginable strength and creativity?

Good. Then let’s do this together. I’ve put together a few ideas that have been helpful to me.

I discovered something really interesting: Reluctance to move forward comes from a past failure. Finding that failure and understanding which part of it has been unexplored in present time can free you from the trap it set.

  • Can you spot a past failure that makes you sad or regretful?

As the CEO of a growing company, I saw staff members cave into their own feelings of past failure. Sometimes a compliment or a few words of encouragement went a long way, spoken at the right time, can motivate such a person to move forward.

  • Can you think of one person today who could benefit from a few kind, supportive words from you?
  • Would you be willing to approach them and gesture to help?

A good way to push back against any reluctance to move something forward. Listen to your instincts and see if you are getting a “hit” on being more comfortable by not moving forward. If so, the gains are even more rewarding.

  • What project have you put off in the last 90 days that you didn’t start for “various reasons” or because you were too busy?
  • Can you start it now and commit to seeing it through?

The illusion of age can stop you from being who you are. My own step-father said something very funny about this. He’s 92 years old and he was trying to get out of his chair so we all could go to dinner. Taking his time, he sensed we were all getting a little anxious as he needed more time than we did. He turned to us and said “Hey, I’m not 91 anymore, give me a break!” and we laughed at our own silliness.

Let’s Agree Not To Fall Into The Trap of The Elephant’s Dilemma.

Don’t be trapped by the past and distracted by mundane activities that become a daily routine. I work with clients all the time who can easily be moved from boredom, indecision and lack of creativity in their own lives just by asking questions that free them from past, limited thinking.

What would happen if you asked yourself just one question and thought about it all day? Would you be willing to try? I wrote these “Success Questions” to help clients get unstuck. Take a look, grab a question (or two) for today and set your mind to work in the background as you work throughout the day. Would you be willing to share your results?

I know we are more powerful than we think. Let’s prove it to ourselves by being aware of the trap, the dilemma of thinking we are powerless when exactly the opposite is true. We’re none of the labels we attach to ourselves; we’re not too old, too short, too tall or too anything. We are perfect exactly the way we are, we just don’t know it.

No more excuses, now we do.

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