Why the hardest road involves taking the red pill

"You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes." Morpheus, The Matrix

Making the decision to pursue a “better self” or a “better career”, no matter what that looks like, is damn tough. In fact, the dirty little secret of self-enlightenment is this: the more you know, the less you know. It's a tough road to walk; a road filled with self-doubt, reflection, and re-imagining. For most, the easy road is taking the blue pill. Going back to sleep and waking up again tomorrow to live a life pretending nothing else is out there. We're not in the business of pretending change is easy - but whilst it is the hard road, it's also the most rewarding.

“If you'd told us the truth, we would've told you to shove that red pill right up your ass.” Cypher, The Matrix

Ignorance is bliss unless you wake up to it

I recently read Ego is the Enemy and The Obstacle is the Way. They challenged the way I saw myself and how my ego had manifested itself negatively over the years. The books themselves were great. They just made me see my world in a different way, in a short space of time. As a natural reaction, I wanted to put my defences up and reject the difficult learnings.

Having your concept of ego turned inside out is a real challenge. I realised that much of my positive self-image related to work - a destructive habit.

Successful lawyer. Successful international recruiter. Successful business owner. These identities had become so ingrained in the way I see and value myself. Learning to strip away the attachment to these is confronting and hard to see through. Enough to make you wish that you had taken the blue pill instead. Wish that you could wake up tomorrow, ignorant and clinging to that former value of yourself.

You may kick and scream and wish you had embraced ignorance. But there's no turning back once you've seen the girl in the red dress. It doesn't mean that you won't find things difficult and confronting. In fact, it is quite the opposite; the more put out by something you are, the more valuable it is. It means you are doing something that aligns with what you value. In the end, that is the only path to becoming more fulfilled.

You're going to hurt anyway, so it might as well be doing something you know is right

“To deny our own impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human.” Mouse, the Matrix

Embracing a new mode of thought, or change in any form means there will be times when it is going to hurt. Even when you are moving in the right direction. Don't trust anyone who says you can make a change and it's going to be all unicorns and rainbows. They have never made great change. We're big believers in taking small steps but here are times when you will face bigger leaps you have to take.

But, what's the alternative? If you were so happy and fulfilled, you wouldn't have even started to contemplate change. You wouldn't have started to look elsewhere. You were hurting anyway, only a different kind of hurt. For some people, that hurt is enough to whine and moan, but never do anything about it. They're like the old dog on the porch lying on a nail - it hurts enough for him to cry, but not enough to roll off it. So we shouldn't pretend that taking the blue pill is the easy course either.

“Neo, sooner or later you're going to realize just as I did that there's a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” Morpheus, the Matrix

Change takes time... which you have to live through

One thing that is rarely discussed when it comes to change is that it never happens quickly. The effect is that we have to live through peeling the band-aid off very slowly. That might be the 8 weeks it takes to get into shape, or the few months it takes to do a course that gives you clarity and direction. At the end, you have achieved, but the process can feel painful.

The getting in shape analogy is a good one in this case. You might have a trainer you see daily, but you alone are responsible for the choices you make in the rest of your day. There will be times of extreme motivation and you know you'll be super proud when you're done. But the struggle is the time when you're without help.

Change creates short term black holes.

“I know what you're thinking, 'cause right now I'm thinking the same thing. Actually, I've been thinking it ever since I got here: Why oh why didn't I take the BLUE pill?” Cypher, the Matrix

Change can also create mini voids or personal black holes. Sometimes you have to tear a building down before building another one. There is a building phase, and a phase when it's just rubble.

That may sound dramatic because you are building something better. The point is that you are going to have off days as a result of being challenged. This is a sign you are doing something right. A lot of people give up because of the off days, instead of recognising it as being part of the process.

We have a saying in my gym; some days you're the hammer, some days you're the nail. Each day you are training, improving and doing something you love. But you end up being the nail a lot of the time too. So, it hurts and you can't do anything about it, right? Wrong. A great way to handle challenging times is to chat with someone who understands the journey.

The better you get, the bigger target you become

Becoming good at anything is always tempered by the fact that the higher you rise, the more of a target you become. To put it into an analogy around Jiu Jitsu (which I love doing), as you progress, the target on your back grows. As a white belt, no one really cares about taking you down. As a blue belt, all the white belts want to smash you and the purple belts want to hurt you even more. When you get your purple belt, the white AND blue belts want to smash you, and the brown belts too. And so on.

You are getting better, your skills are improving and you are becoming more dangerous. But, the more dangerous you become, the more others want to take you down.

Getting ahead tends to involve this double edge sword of achievement and pressure. The key ingredient in handling it is to develop other skills along the way. Resilience, persistence, patience and humility. So while your target is larger, it won't make a difference to you.

During the climb, we all fall. We all struggle with the challenge. But if you develop these other skills, dust yourself off and keep going, you will keep moving in the right direction.

“I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.” Morpheus, The Matrix