Several months ago, there was a video making the rounds of Facebook. It was thirty relatively improbable seconds of video, set inside a home, a squirrel attempting to bury an acorn in the fur of an enormous furry dog. The video raised a lot of questions. There were lots of comments about the adorableness. There were 3,000,000 views.
I watched it several times. I bookmarked it. Watched it again. The squirrel busily moving and adjusting and rearranging the dog’s fur around the nut, the squirrel pausing to survey its good work, the nut falling to the ground. Over and over. If that isn’t a metaphor of the human condition, I don’t know what is.
That squirrel, it was doing everything right. It was executing the hiding of the nut perfectly. But the squirrel, it was doomed to failure. No matter how hard that squirrel worked to hide that nut, the squirrel was always going to fail because a dog’s fur is not the place to store nuts.
The squirrel could have gone to university to study nut hiding and still, the nut would always, always, always, fall to the ground. The squirrel could have called in more squirrels. Six squirrels working on hiding that nut would still have been unsuccessful.
That squirrel had two options. The squirrel could change its setting and move outdoors. In the outdoors, the squirrel could be a successful hider of nuts. Option number two was the squirrel could stay indoors and stop spending its time hiding nuts and find some other, more productive and enjoyable way to spend its time.
I used to be that squirrel. I worked so hard. I executed sales plans perfectly. I studied human psychology and motivation. I listened to motivational tapes. I memorized scripts. And I closed a lot of deals. But I never broke through to the level I wanted. I never reached the larger goals I set. After each failure, I would beat myself up. I would replay every step and call out the tiniest mistakes. And then I would read more, listen to more tapes, go to more sales conferences, try to be better next time, over and over, for years.
I was never going to achieve the success I was looking for because I was a squirrel living in a house trying to hide nuts in my best friend’s fur. I know so many people who are in similar situations. Western culture, especially American culture, tells us all we have to do is work hard and we can all be successful. Work hard, get an education, and you too can earn the American dream. Practice enough and you too can be a professional athlete. If you try harder, you can be a perfect spouse or partner. Run more and lift heavier and you can lose weight. And it isn’t true. It is so not true, I can’t believe we all still buy into it.
Maybe, right now, you are that squirrel. Maybe you are feeling frustrated at your job or depressed about your weight or disappointed in your relationship. Maybe what you need to do is stand back from everything and re-evaluate. Look at the situation with new eyes. Maybe what you need is to take your skills to a new setting. Maybe you need to stop doing what you are doing altogether and spend your time doing something else.
Try not to beat yourself up so much. Try not to be so hard on the people around you. Practice compassion. Be empathetic. Enjoy the journey.