Limitations We Put On Ourselves

A frog has lived its life in the well for as long as it can remember. Its whole world consists of the well wall and what it contains within. There are some different versions of this story but I like this one:

There was a Little Frog who lived at the bottom of a deep, dark well. It was a very old well filled with shallow water at the bottom. The walls of the well were all covered with wet moss. When the Little Frog was thirsty, he drank a little bit of the well water, and when he was hungry, he ate some insects. When he was tired, he lay on a little rock at the bottom of the well and looked up at the sky above him. Sometimes he saw passing clouds. He was very happy and satisfied.

Now, the Little Frog had been living at the bottom of this old well since he was born. He had never been to the outside world. Whenever other animals stopped at the edge of the well, the Little Frog always looked up and bragged, “Hello! Why don’t you come down here and play with me. It’s so pleasant down here. Look, I have cool water to drink and countless insects to eat. Come down and visit my beautiful home! At night I can watch the twinkling stars, and sometimes I can see the beautiful moon, too.”

One day, a Yellow Sparrow stopped by at the edge of the well. The Little Frog was so excited he greeted the sparrow and invited him eagerly. “Hello, Mr. Yellow Sparrow, how are you? Please come down to my most beautiful house.” But the Yellow Sparrow looked down the dark well, shrugged and flew off. The next day the Yellow Sparrow returned and again The Little Frog invited him in. But the yellow sparrow just smiled and said: “Little Frog, why don’t you let me show you the outside world instead? It’s so much bigger and more beautiful than your dark little well!” The Little Frog could not believe his ears!

So the Yellow Sparrow flew down to the bottom of the well, picked up the Little Frog on his back, and flew out of the well. “Oh!” the Little Frog exclaimed. “How is it that the outside world is so big?” He had been in the bottom of his dark well for so long that the bright sunshine made his eyes hurt and at first, he could hardly see a thing. When his eyes finally adjusted to the bright sun and open sky, he saw so many things around him.

“Hey! Be careful! Don’t hit this strange thing. What are all these green high and low things?” The yellow sparrow laughed happily: “Ha! ha! Those are mountains and valleys. There are countless mountains in this world. The Himalayas, the Alps, the Rockies and… ” The Little Frog could not believe his eyes. As they passed the high mountains, the next view made the Little Frog even more surprised.

“What is that long, silvery, shiny view?”

“It is a river,” the Yellow Sparrow replied.

“Then what is that huge, blue thing over there?”

“That is the ocean,” the Yellow Sparrow replied.

“That river and the ocean, how much water do they contain? How much bigger are they than my well? They must hold a billion times more water than my well.” The Little Frog began to realize how tiny his world inside the well was.

The Yellow Sparrow finally put the Little Frog down on the ground and flew away. The Little Frog jumped into the grass and saw many beautiful flowers of different colors. He had never seen such beautiful flowers and had never smelled such nice scents. He kept on going and went into the forest. He looked up and saw many tall trees. He looked down and found many different kinds of fruits that had fallen to the ground. He picked up an apple and tasted it. “Wow, so sweet!” Then he listened to the beautiful singing of the birds. The cute squirrels were jumping, the monkeys were swinging from branch to branch, and the antelopes were scampering speedily around. In the pond, the lotus flowers were dancing with the air, and the lotus leaves were floating on the water like umbrellas where colorful fish swam happily.

“The outside world is so big, so wonderful, and beautiful!” The Little Frog finally cried out overjoyed and jumped into the pond. He climbed up on a huge lotus leaf and enjoyed his new life there. The next day, the Yellow Sparrow returned and asked, “Hey, Little Frog! How’s this outside world? Big? Beautiful?”

“Yes, thank you so much. If you had not brought me out to see this world, I would never have known that there are such beautiful things that exist outside my well .” And so, The Little Frog lived happily ever after in his new big world and never thought about the old well again.

Our well, our limitations – Photo by Valentin Lacoste on Unsplash

What is our well?

Should the frog have tried to get out of the well, if there was an opportunity? What if you were the frog, would you? It is an odd thing. It is so much easier to say emphatically yes on behalf of the frog, yet so much harder to say yes to our own circumstances – or metaphorically, our own well.

What are your assumptions about the future? Do you live where you live now, working at your current workplace, with the same folks in your life right now? That is one assumption.

Change the hypothesis. What is your ideal life in the future? Would you live in a different place? Are you doing a different job or the same job but at a different workplace? Would any of your relationships change?

What are the changes that you need to make now, in order to live your best life?

Your job, your well

Our own well can be our jobs which give us a sense of security and for a lot of us, it is our whole world. We spend most of our waking hours at the job, worrying about it and often consumed by our career – what title we have, how valued we are by our boss or colleagues, the co-workers who bother us, the other departments that just don’t seem to “get it” and can’t do their jobs properly.

The CEO of the company seems like a king (or in rare cases, queen) and everyone else wants to be one. Consider leaping out of the well – especially if you are less than ‘fulfilled‘ at work. You will only know what the well provides for you in comparison to the whole world once you’ve lept out.

There’s always the possibility of losing face. Are you telling yourself that the benefits package is so good and maybe you can just stay on for a little longer? Or maybe the company shares are attractive. And what if I get bored if I leave? What if it takes too long to find another job and run out of money?

Leaping out of my job well – Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

I lept out of my job well a couple of years back. I didn’t just leave the job but the corporate world altogether and I was still in my forties. I had been convincing myself that my well was the best place for me and if I were to leave it, I was afraid that I would feel bored, unproductive and depressed. I was afraid that I would miss the power position of affecting changes in the industry, organization and people that I worked with.

Out of my well, the reality is this: I wake up every day with enormous energy, which I am told to bottle up and sell to support my retirement lifestyle. With no work stress (by the way, I didn’t know that I was stressed until I quit – talk about self-denial, right?), no work colleague to have any tension with, and no shareholders to please, I sleep like a baby and bounce up excited about the day to explore and learn new things (much to the chagrin of my still working husband!)

I had been afraid that I would feel ‘worthless’ if I left my job. What makes us feel ‘worth-y’ or ‘worth-full’? A lot of us attach our worth to our job. For a surprising mass of us, our job is everything. Even our family comes after. Not theoretically but in reality, fathers (and some mothers) will consistently choose their work function over their family’s. So it makes sense that we feel apprehensive about leaving our jobs.

However, if you can zoom out for a moment and ask yourself where your worth should come from, the answers might surprise you. Imagine for a moment that you have reached the end of your life and taking stock on your achievements. “I’ve made a positive impact on ______ by doing _____.” Do you think you would say that you made a positive impact by creating 2% more bottom-line margin for your company? Or that your positive impact was helping restructure operations to make them more efficient? Or redesigning the software to perform faster? Probably not.

More likely your focus will be on people you helped to grow, people you loved and mentored. Relationships and family connections. If your current job is supporting your cause, that’s amazing. You’ve hit the jackpot. If not, maybe you will find your self-worth outside the well.

It may take a while to find it but as I found out through my own departure, it is okay not knowing what it might be. Only when you are outside the well, the answers emerge in your wandering around this fascinating unknown world.

Leaping into your fuller life!

Your Relationship, Your Well

Are you fulfilled in your relationships, be it friendship, life partnership, or family? If your answer is yes, congratulations. Not everyone is as fortunate.

Others may be in a relationship that you have a hunch isn’t the best for you, yet you keep telling yourself that this is the best you can get. Are you afraid of leaving the relationship because you don’t know what life will be like outside the well? And ironically, you will only know once you’ve lept out of the well.

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage.

Dale Carnegie

Opportunity Cost of Staying in the Well

What you can have instead of staying in the well is your opportunity cost. A more fulfilling job, more respectful boss, more diverse work environment, or flexible work arrangement? How about a partner who encourages your growth? How about starting a new business? You might even move to a new country.

What are you missing out on because you are too afraid to leave the well? Instead of focusing on what you may lose, focus on what you may gain as a new opportunity.

Harness to take care of your fear

Name your fear, so that you can find a solution to it. If you are afraid of leaving your job because you may not secure a new one fast enough to sustain your living, which is sensible, I suggest that you find your harness, something that gives you the security and assurance to jump. You will need to prepare savings to cover the gap between jobs.

Is it pride that is holding you back from leaving your relationship? Is it the fear of being alone? Depending on your fear, find your harness. My harness was my financial situation where I finally had built up enough assets to cover my living expenses for the rest of my life.

Make the Leap

One needs courage, an adventurous mind and curiosity to venture out of the well. Only then can we find the bigger landscape. We expand as individuals when our horizon expands. When challenged by the unknown, we learn humility. We learn so much more about ourselves. I encourage you to make that leap and try the world outside the well.

And yes, your harness can help but you will still need to jump!

What exciting new things will you find?
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