The hurrier I go, the behinder I get… (The White Rabbit, Alice In Wonderland – Lewis Carroll)
Being an active entrepreneur for so many years, people have often asked me the classic question, “what is the key to success?” But the challenge in today’s “hack everything” world, is the hope for a one sentence answer. As if the golden secret to a life of wealth and fulfillment could be found in a Christmas cracker. Disneyland thinking and one that usually keeps people searching on the hamster wheel for ‘the next golden nugget’ of wisdom. Way too much has been written about the virtues, habits and keys to success in popular culture, with way too much rhetoric and cliché thrown in. However, very little has been written about the deeper reasons WHY we keep searching and, more to the point, why for so many people the elusive prize called ‘success’ seems to remain always in sight but yet forever out of reach. Why is it that so many entrepreneurs go to their grave trying to win the game of Life, only to realize too late it was their own rules that made it impossible? That was a question I asked myself at 2am one cold evening when, after working 130 hours a week for months at a time, something went drastically wrong.
It seemed to be going well. I was 25 years old and had bought my first Ferrari for cash. A bright red testarrossa with the license plate A1 SAGE. It may as well have said A1 EGO. But although I appeared to be living a successful life by most people’s standards, there was something wrong. I didn’t know what it was and I was way too busy being busy to give it any attention. But every now and then when I would stop or have a moment alone it would be there. Like an undercurrent of emptiness. At first it seemed clear it was just a byproduct of not having achieved enough and therefore instead of the, now three, successful businesses I was running I clearly needed a fourth. Then a fifth. And so on. Eventually something had to give and when it did, it would completely shift the way I was living my life.
I can relive it like it was yesterday. I kept asking myself “What the hell just happened?” it was a question I was almost too shocked to answer. The adrenaline was still coursing through my system and even though the night air was cold, I was sweating. Hard. I sat on the side of the road with my head in my hands as the realization of the event that just nearly ended my life started to dawn. The details were fairly straightforward – after leaving the office at my usual time of 2am, I’d fallen asleep driving home and hit an intersection at around 60mph. Fortunately I wasn’t badly hurt and I can only thank God no one else was involved. For that at least I was grateful. The car wasn’t so lucky and with hands shaking I dialed the number for a tow truck company. Looked at in isolation, it was an unfortunate accident caused by fatigue. However, when looking at the bigger picture it revealed a much deeper pattern that was running my life. Something I see in countless entrepreneurs across the world. A pattern so disruptive it virtually guarantees unhappiness. A pattern I call ‘The Curse of the White Rabbit’.
The analogy I use here centers on the metaphor of a dog track. For those who are not too familiar with a day at the races, I’ll set the scene. Imagine an oval track with a series of ‘traps’ that form the start line. When the traps open, the dogs run around the track and the first one across the line wins, much to the delight of those who gambled their money on the fastest mutt. Now, an obvious question would be ‘why do the dogs run?’ Again, those familiar with the deal know it’s because they are chasing a mechanical rabbit that speeds along the inside perimeter on an electric rail. All sounds good so far until we ask a slightly deeper question such as, does the dog ever catch the rabbit? The answer is clearly no as that may prematurely end the race and, depending on the voltage, even the dog. But wait, hang on. What if the dog is much faster than the other dogs, will it now catch the rabbit? Nope. Ah, what if it has a better trainer? Nada. A better diet? Zippo. Sleeps in a better kennel? Not happening.
OK, let’s be un-doglike and pause for a second. So, even if we have the world’s number one greyhound (let’s call him Flash) that wins every race he enters, he’s still never going to catch the rabbit. Why? We already know it has nothing to do with not being good enough. He’s already top of the charts in the extraordinary dog league, much to the dismay of the bookies. In fact, he excels in every respect as a fine canine specimen but still, no matter what else he does, no matter what strategy he tries or training regime he follows, he is never going to be able to catch the rabbit. Of course to you and I, the answer is as simple as it is invisible to good old Flash. It is because the game itself is designed specifically so that he will never catch the rabbit. And the closer he gets the faster it goes.
So many of us are playing the game of life, business, relationships, you name it, still chasing an elusive rabbit we have never caught. The rabbit has many names. Happiness, success, fulfillment, feeling good enough, approval, acceptance and love are some of the most common. We spend our life chasing a white fluffy tail that seems just inches away, convinced that as soon as we catch it we’ll win the prize. Worse than that, it often seems close enough to be able to grab it with our teeth. And if it’s not inches from our face then it’s just around the next corner. As a result we spend our life on the track, getting exhausted and often disappointed and blaming ourselves for not being good enough to catch it. Like Wiley Coyote trying to outwit the Roadrunner, we then come up with many strategies we think will get us there. We learn new skills, get an MBA, set more aggressive goals, master time management, go to the gym, look for more resources and try to get better in various aspects of rabbitcatchology. In short, we focus exclusively on ways to run faster on the track. Sometimes we do catch the rabbit we thought we were chasing, such as a specific goal we had set. The new job, the new car, a new relationship or our first million. It doesn’t matter. Most of us are very familiar with what happens next. Just when we thought we’d be happy with our ‘prize’, out of nowhere another white tail appears. Jeez, son of a bunny. And before we know it we are chasing the next one. We are not sure why. We thought we would be happy with our first million but clearly not. Of course, we now need two million in case we lose the first and then surely we’ll feel like we have arrived. Trust me, it’s never going to happen.
The reason for this perpetual chase is because we were never actually playing the game of get the million in the first place. We just thought we were. We were playing the game of when I get a million (catch the rabbit) then I’ll feel fulfilled or good enough. Then I’ll have proved to myself and the world I have what it takes. Then I will have arrived! The problem with playing that particular game is it’s unwinnable. Not because you can’t make a million. Not because you are not smart enough or hard working enough or attractive enough. IT’S BECAUSE THE GAME IS SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED SO YOU CAN NEVER CATCH THE RABBIT OF FULFILLMENT BY CHASING IT ON THE TRACK OF ACHIEVEMENT.
Don’t get me wrong. That doesn’t mean that you should not set goals, go for your MBA or look for a loving relationship. That’s like Flash saying to his other dog friends “You know, I’ve won three races this week but I’ve still not caught that damn rabbit. I’m going on strike until I figure this thing out and if I can’t then I quit.” No, the reason Flash still runs is because greyhounds love to run. That is what greyhounds do. Entrepreneurs love to set up businesses, that is what entrepreneurs do. People are drawn towards relationships because it’s natural for people to do so. But if we are doing it with the mindset of having to catch the rabbit in order to feel fulfilled or that we are going to arrive at a destination we think will make us happier than we are now, then we will always be stuck on the track chasing a fluffy tail that seems forever just out of reach no matter how fast we run. They key point here is that greyhounds do not get their fulfillment from catching the rabbit. All of the dogs in the race are super happy at the end of it because greyhounds love to run. It is an expression of who there are. It is what they were created for. It is the beauty of God coming through them in its purest form. Who cares about the rabbit? That just makes it fun, gives a purpose, a goal and something to chase and is a good enough excuse for them (not that they need it) to be who they are at their best.
In modern society we have been so hypnotized to chase fulfillment through achievement, we never stop to realize it’s not working and we’ve been sold a dummy. We just keep blaming ourselves for not running fast enough and in doing so miss a fundamental realization. A truth so powerful and so obvious that it has the capacity to break the curse and shift the entire game if we can take our attention away from the rabbit long enough to feel it. I’ll share what it is in a moment but before I do, allow me offer another distinction that may reveal the extent of the hypnosis we are in.
Suppose you entered a competition to win two tickets on a luxury around the world trip. You filled out the entry form, crossed your fingers but then forgot about it for several weeks as life carried on. Then one day you get a phone call. The person on the other end of the phone excitedly announces the prize draw was just completed and guess what – You won! Not only that but the details of the trip are even better than you remember. It’s three months long and first class all the way. There are over 20 incredible destinations including many of the places on your bucket list you’ve always wanted to go. Machu Picchu, The Northern Lights, The Pyramids and so many more. And now you get to see them in style! Private jets, cruise liners, five star hotels and champagne. Get in touch with that scenario for a second. How excited would you be? Of course the first thing we are drawn to do when we experience something that uplifts us is share it with another person. So we immediately call our best friend to tell them the incredible news. But as soon as we explain the fact it’s three months long and we are about to list the 20 incredible places, our friend cuts us off and says ‘wow that sounds amazing – tell me all about your final destination!’ After pausing for a second and being somewhat thrown off track you realize you don’t even know, you haven’t looked that far ahead. Besides it’s not that important, you want to list them all. Your friend cuts you off again. ‘No, no, just tell me about where you end up, where do you finish?’ How would you respond? Most likely it would be a version of ‘Well I don’t really care too much, I just want to enjoy the trip!’ That, my friends, is Life with a capital ‘L’.
By contrast, people who break the curse make a critical shift in thinking. They recognize the fact they already won the biggest prize in history. Out of 400 million sperm and against all the odds, THEY came first. They were born wearing a gold medal and have nothing more to prove. They are not focused on trying to earn love but instead radiate it as an expression of who they are. Grateful for the opportunity to be living in a time in human history that thousands of generations before us could only have dreamed about. They realize the real difference between riches and poverty is not numbers on a bank statement. After all, $1m can make one person feel wealthy and another nearly bankrupt. They understand that feeling wealthy is therefore nothing more than the perception of abundance triggered by gratitude. Whereas poverty is simply the perception of scarcity triggered by fear & loss. They are comfortable with the fact that no matter what they have done or what they haven’t done, they are worthy of love. They don’t and never did need to earn it. And most importantly, through all of that awareness, they finally come to the unavoidable truth mentioned earlier which has been waiting for us all along. The truth we will always see staring at us back from the mirror as soon as we wipe away the fog of insecurity. A message of freedom that states:
I Already Am That Which I Seek
From this awareness there is no need to chase anything in order to prove yourself. All of the energy spent in desperation trying to catch the uncatchable can now be spent on the joy of running which, paradoxically, usually means more tails get pinned to the wall. Not that you need them. And it is from this place the curse is lifted and you are free to play the game on your terms.
In summary, don’t be one of the masses running at 90 miles an hour to nowhere. I played that game for way too long before it nearly killed me. Others aren’t so lucky. They spend their lives so busy and focused on the end destination of bagging the bunny, they miss the entire purpose, which, as many wise people have said, it’s about loving the journey.