“There’s only one thing worse than not getting what you want—getting it.” We’ve all seen it happen. The woman who angles for the top job, gets it, but the toll it takes wipes out her happiness. The man who leaves his wife and family for the “perfect” new woman, only to wake the next morning with the taste of ash in his mouth. Every addiction that leads to agony begins with an ecstatic grasping of the prize. Getting what you want.
I remember speaking to a group of people a few years ago about finding joy and happiness in life. When I said it was important to let go of grudges and fears and crippling old memories—all the negatives—everyone was nodding and sighing “yes.” But when I said it was just as important to let go of our successes, our accomplishments, our grand prizes—all the positives—they looked at me as if I were suddenly speaking Swahili. Why would anyone let go of something good?
I once heard a story about an avid eagle watcher who spent hours in remote Alaskan wilderness tracking and observing eagles. (I’m drawn to this tale because I, too, can spend hours watching Bald Eagles hunt and fish in the waters off Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.) The man was watching “Boss,” the largest bird in the valley, riding thermals, rolling and rollicking on the wind. Suddenly Boss turned into a steep dive that took him to the ground. In a moment the eagle was beating its powerful wings, ascending into the sky with something large clutched in its talons.
The man trained his binoculars on this scene. In a few minutes, Boss began to swerve and fly erratically. It was hard to keep the eagle in his vision—he would rise, then careen wildly down. He flew crazily like this until finally he crashed into a cliff, spiralling down to the valley floor.
Intrigued, the man determined to find out what had caused this strange event. He hiked through rugged terrain to the place where he thought he had seen the eagle fall. After an hour’s search, he finally found the dead bird, the prey still grasped in its talons. Boss had snatched a badger, one of the most ferocious animals, and as it was being carried away that badger had gnawed the stomach of the eagle until its entrails fell to the ground. The man stood there stunned. He could hardly believe what was before him. The eagle had claimed its prize, but then in a wild reversal the prize had claimed him. Prey became predator, and the poor eagle could not let go.
We must learn to let go of our prizes—not so much our problems. We must learn to unhand our victories, our triumphs, our trophies and crowns. For a time they may be good and beautiful and life-giving, but they will almost always begin to gnaw away at our bellies.