One of my favorite stories of all time is about an eagle who believed himself to be a chicken. The story goes something like:
A farmer is climbing the mountains near his farm one day and stumbles upon an abandoned eagle’s nest. He’s about to leave when he realizes that hidden on the very side of the nest is an unhatched egg. He picks up it, looks at it and decides “What the heck, I might as well see if I can get this egg to hatch.” So he takes the egg, brings it back to his farm and puts it under a chicken to see if it could be hatched.
Weeks later, the egg does hatch and the chickens without realizing that the chick was an eaglet, raises it exactly as they would a chicken. The eagle, having grown up around chickens its’ entire life has no idea that he’s different from the rest of the flock. Every day, he scurries back and forth, pecking around the farm looking for bugs to eat, and clucks and squawks as often as he can.
One day, as the eagle was perched on the fence and looking up in the skies, he sees a majestic sight. Thousands of feet in the air, there’s another eagle gliding confidently looking for prey. Intimidated and impressed by such a sight, the eagle asks the chickens around him: “What kind of bird is that to be able to fly so high in the sky?”
“Oh, that’s an eagle, the king of all birds. It can fly faster than a cheetah, fly higher than any any tree, and fly longer than any fox in the world. It’s not something we’ll ever be able to achieve because we can only be chickens, and not eagles.”
Hearing that, the eagle was disappointed but not surprised. He continued living his days as a chicken and eventually died having never known of his identity as an eagle. He believed himself to be a chicken to the end of his days.
The lesson behind this story is often interpreted as not being able to see our own potential, that we’re all “eagles” in our own right with the ability to soar high and achieve success. It’s not a bad interpretation, but I believe there’s a better lesson to be learned.
It’s to never live your life based on the words and expectations of others.
There are always people in life that will tell you that something can’t be done, that you shouldn’t even try because it’s just not possible. When people say something can’t be done, it’s because it’s something they can’t do themselves. It’s a reference to their own ability and their own experiences. A favorite quote of mine sums this up accurately:
“When someone tells you it can’t be done, it’s more of a reflection of their limitations, not yours.” — Anonymous
People like telling others that they can’t do something because it’s easy to do and nurtures their ego. They like to compare; They believe you to be at their level or lower. They flaunt their experiences and imprint what’s originally their own limitations onto you, mockingly, as if they’re making the declaration that you’ll never be able to achieve what they couldn’t.
And it’s sad to say, but many of us do believe in what we’re told and set our limitations based on the experiences of others, without ever finding out our own. We take their words for granted, and believe ourselves to as incapable as other people say. We give up on our dreams, we give up on lives all because someone came along and said we couldn’t. We are the eagles in the story but we believe ourselves to be chickens all because someone came along and said we couldn’t.
What most of us don’t understand is that limits are meant to be broken. We’re supposed to exceed limits because that’s how we grow. That’s how we discover our potential and live up to it and achieve goals, desires, dreams. That’s how we live the lives we want and be able to look back when we’re old and say that’s a life well-lived.
If we live our whole lives listening to the expectations that other people have for us, we’ll never find out what we’re actually capable. We’ll never know what’s it like to have broken our limits, to have achieved the very thing that others believed was not possible for us.
There’s can always be a different outcome, an alternative to the ending you choose. Just because we’re being told what to do doesn’t mean we have to listen. Too many of us live our lives scared, too afraid to take up the challenge and break out of the norm; we limit ourselves because of fear and underestimate ourselves because of the spoken and unspoken rules of society.
Laws are not the same thing as rules. Laws we should abide by, but rules? They’re just guidelines, created by other people mainly for the sake of their own convenience. We can challenge those rules, challenge those guidelines, the expectations that others have of us and exceed our own limitations. We can break the rules.
The greatest attestation I have to this lesson is a story of my own:
A friend and I had been meaning to try out a new hot pot place that had recently opened. The restaurant was well-known; it had been expanding rapidly in Southern California for the past several years. The new store they opened, the one my friend and I were planning on going to was the first one ever to open in Northern California.
We made the forty minute drive, and upon arriving, discovered a queue that spanned from the entrance of the restaurant all the way around the building and onto the sidewalk. The estimated wait time was to be a little over two hours.
I was ready to leave and give up, but my friend stopped me. He marched back into the restaurant, looked the hostess in the eye and asked to see the manager. When the manager came out, my friend asked for seats again, except this time mentioned that he was a VIP.
“Hi. I’d like a table for two. I’m a VIP.”
The manager was confused and politely asked us to hold while he frantically attempted to call his boss. His boss never answered and we ended up getting a table within five minutes along with VIP treatment.
This was one of his wittier moments and gave me perspective and the very realization that all decisions in life can have more than one outcome. My friend wasn’t a celebrity or anyone special, he just said he was. He challenged the rule, he challenged the very notion of being held back by the limitations set by other people. Where others said he couldn’t or assumed he couldn’t, he did and proved them wrong.
There will always be moments in your life when you wonder Am I capable of this? or Will I be able to succeed? and the answer is almost always ‘yes’. The moment you began considering whether or not it’s possible, you already instilled a ray of hope in your mind. If you truly didn’t believe it be possible, you wouldn’t have even posed that question. And the one thing that stops us from fulfilling that question is our own self-doubts we give into after we’ve been told we can’t achieve it.
The important thing is to not take ‘no’ for an answer. Its to not limit yourself based on the words and expectations of others and find your own limits. Find your own limits and break them.
“There will be haters, doubters, non-believers, and then there will be you, proving them wrong.”