Ripe grapes on a vine.

For Life & Leadership: The Prison of Plenty

I recently read Man’s Search for Meaning (Viktor Frankl), Awareness (Anthony De Mello), and The War of Art (Stephen Pressfield), and I just watched Brene’ Brown’s new Netflix special, Call to Courage. Shew. My mind and heart are full and working overtime to adjust. What follows below is an attempt to express some of what’s emerging from the rubble of this period of mental and emotional renovation. And it’s as much a challenge to myself as it is an effort to encourage others.

One of the tragedies of poverty is untapped human potential. Life’s most basic requirements–food, water, shelter, safety–demand the poor’s constant attention. The poor are imprisoned by scarcity.

Ironically, one of the tragedies of plenty is also untapped human potential. Freedom from want lulls us to sleep and tempts us to squander precious time and energy in pettiness. (“Pettiness” defined: undue concern with trivial matters–not to be confused with “Pettyness” which I, by definition, can’t escape). We have the luxury of avoiding hard things, whether things we know we should do or things we want to do that require a lot of us. We can avoid exposure to new risks and uncertainty and the very real possibility of failure because one day rolls into another without urgency. (Stephen Pressfield identifies “Resistance” as the culprit at work here, and provides great insight as to how to defeat it. Brene’ Brown would add that our fear of vulnerability is at work here, too, and we must master that fear to get to the most meaningful things in life.)

All of us have unspoken shoulds and wants and aspirations that we expend a lot of energy to suppress. But we diminish ourselves and deprive the world when we choose comfort over courage. In our freedom from want, we are imprisoned by plenty. The big difference between the poor’s prison of scarcity and the prison of plenty that many of us inhabit is that the door to the prison of plenty is unlocked and standing wide open. We can just get up, walk out, and set ourselves free.

There are many whose imprisonment is not optional. Yours is.

For many, the dominant need is staying alive. For many of us, though, the dominant need is coming alive in the first place. (Thank you, Anthony De Mello.)

Wake up! Come alive! Set yourself free from your prison of plenty and embrace the opportunities of plenty instead. To echo Brene Brown’s exhortation, “choose courage over comfort!” Envision a fully-awake, even-more-courageous version of you. Commit to becoming that person, to becoming who you were made to be.

What is the hard thing you know you should do? What is the hard thing you really want to do? Do those things.