Get out of the Way!

April 04, 2006

Some television commercials stick with you. We all remember Alka Seltzer and the slogan, "I can't believe I ate the whole thing." Also, "Where's the Beef?" grinds out memories of Wendy's hamburgers. One poignant ad for Volkswagen burns in my memory and teaches me a lesson to this day, some twenty or more years after the campaign. Using simulators complete with crash-test dummies, VW dared to show how various other car manufacturers' vehicles withstood a head-on collision into a concrete wall. One after another, the other brands crumpled at the impact, sending the dummies tumbling inside the cabin. Finally, we see the Volkswagen speeding towards the wall. For a brief second we hope the car bounces back unscathed, or at the least we expect a less brutal impact. Instead the car performs a quick left then right turn circumventing the wall altogether. The closing message: "At Volkswagen, we strive to avoid."

My maternal grandmother, born in Sicily and immigrated to the States in the early 20th century, expressed many wise colloquialisms. She lived close to the ocean at Castellemarre (Castle-by-the-Sea) outside of Palermo and watched the sparkling aqua blue waters of the Mediterranean during her youth. Taking lessons from nature and applying common sense, she'd warn us, "When you see a storm in the ocean, don't put your boat in the water."

Scary movies also teach us a lot. How many times have we yelled at the silver screen, "don't go in the basement!" and the protagonist forges down the stairs only to meet the devil himself. We want to tell him the foreboding music means "Danger, Will Robinson!" and we relate to his senseless need to explore the dangers ahead in spite of the glaring foreshadowing. In one movie we even heard the ghost tell the owners to GET OUT and they ignored the warning. Hoo-boy, they were sorry later! The Blair Witch Project leapt to success not because of stunning cinematography, but because we could somehow identify with the obvious mistakes each character made while getting more and more lost in the woods. Sitting in the audience, we clearly saw the bad choices each character made, leading to his own demise, yet in our own lives we take ridiculous risks with our precious spirits. No voodoo to blame, we flagellate ourselves with "when will I ever learn?"

So many of us see trouble ahead of us, whether in a concrete wall of limitations or restrictions or a tempest of emotions and complications and move forward into them anyway. It's almost as though we can't help ourselves but jump in the puddles of problems and then bemoan the fact that we got wet! Walking around the puddle takes no more effort, but somehow we think something different will result if we just make a big enough splash.

We've all heard the definition of insanity: "Repeating the same behavior and expecting different results." Sometimes we think if we do MORE of the behavior, the results will turn out another way. Rarely do we stand back and think of another direction and even rarer, do we actually move around the problem and try something else. What's going on here? Ego? Perhaps. Habit? Sure. Addiction? OK, you can have addiction if you want it.

We create our own block walls when we stand in our own way of progress and growth. Acting as our own worst enemy, we allow our limitations to hem us in to restrictions and to old thinking patterns.

I think it all boils down to fear. In psychology they call it "better the devil you know." In life, we call it stuck in a rut, or at worst, failure. Trying something you know won't work originates from fear - from self-hatred, from an attitude of deserving defeat.

Look at areas of your life where you move full-throttle into the block wall. Can you maneuver at the last second to avoid impending doom? You chose to put yourself in the scenario with a precarious ending, you can also choose to avoid the problem altogether. Notice the next time you step in front of your progress and block yourself from moving forward. A wise high school teacher once said, "Once you notice something about yourself, you'll never not-notice it again."

You spent a lot of time, effort and love on the boat of your life, don't risk the precious vessel of who you are to a storm you can avoid. Try another day, find another harbor, pick a different ocean. But whatever you do, get the heck out of your own way!


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