How to lead a happier life – Milestone #4: Please mind the gap

“Mind the gap. Mind the gap. Mind the gap.”

Who would have thought that this well-intentioned reminder blasting from the London Underground, and many other transit systems around the world, would actually carry an important and wise message beyond trains and holes?

This article is inspired by Peter Senge’s discussion on personal mastery in his book The Fifth Discipline; in particular, the gap between our personal vision and our current reality.

Vision???

No, we are not talking about those big company statements that employees can barely remember, much less buy into. We are talking about you and your vision of/for yourself. In essence, what do you truly want? What is a picture of yourself in the future that you want to see?

If you have an answer to that question, good. If you find yourself struggling for an answer, I suggest that now is the time to reclaim those dreams which you have banished into the modern-day winter palace, or to create new ones.

The essential gap

For all of us, there exists a gap between our vision and the current reality. However successful and happy one might be, there will always be a gap, simply because it is in our nature to grow and better ourselves. The difference between you and the next person lies in how wide the gap is and what do you do about that gap. Brian Johnson brilliantly calls this innocent space the Integrity Gap.

Closing the gap

A large number of us walk around every day under the subconscious weight of our cognitive dissonance. We want A but we settle for B, and this feeling of discomfort sits in us like a malign tumor that eats away at our spirit slowly. It is what contributes to that nagging dissatisfaction that we have about Life – knowing that we are not doing our best, and therefore living out of integrity with ourselves.

So, what do we do? We try to close the gap to make ourselves feel better, and we do so by means of the following:

  • Seeking an immediate short-term solution for instant gratification. As an extreme example, robbing a bank (I’m sure you got the message)
  • Lowering the vision, a.k.a. compromising and settling
  • Stretching our current reality towards our vision

Which of these is most familiar to you?

The secret to happiness is to live in integrity with your vision and commit to being and acting your best on a moment-to-moment basis, even if it means to stretch beyond your comfort zone and to risk failing or looking like a fool.  The other two options might be easier, but they are dangerous because they trap you in a cycle of suffering and unfulfillment.

On the other hand, taking the road less travelled will be tough and you will most definitely experience pain and struggles. However, it is through this that you will tap into your hidden potential (however cliché it sounds, there is a huge truth to this) and experience strength, joy and freedom like never before, just as how a caterpillar undergoes an intense struggling in the cocoon phase to emerge as a magnificent butterfly. I’ve never heard of a caterpillar that would reject its own evolution because it was afraid of the pain; neither have I seen an eagle that would settle for crawling instead of flying because it thinks that flying is tough. It is part of nature to embrace our greatness and destiny, just as it is in the destiny of an acorn to become a majestic oak tree. We humans are the only ones who would go against nature. Thankfully, we have the power to choose and to change. It is still not too late.

Honouring the gap

Not everything about the gap is gloom and doom. A healthier alternative to the rob-the-bank approach of resolving that cognitive dissonance is to practice the discipline of delayed gratification. It means to honour the fact that you are not yet where you want to be and to gratefully hold that space even as you consistently move towards your vision. This space has a magic of its own called the ‘creative tension’. It is where great ideas are born.

Living with a network of visions

In this imperfect game we call Life, it is not all black and white and easy-peasy Bingo. What happens when you’ve decided to stand by your vision and you find that someone has another vision for you, or that your organization has another vision which you have to subscribe to?

We live in a world that is quite like the Matrix, with visions crisscrossing each other all over the place. Like Neo, there will be bullets coming at you. Some will be called ‘Be realistic’; some will be called ‘You’re not good enough’; some will be called ‘This is what I want for you instead’. The challenge is to commit to living your personal and professional vision, and to be spacious and creative enough to find a way to align it with a bigger vision that encompasses that of your organization or your loved ones.

Hold on to your vision – it is a powerful force for change; for aligning your actions and decisions with your inner north star.

“It’s not what the vision is; it’s what the vision does” – Peter Senge

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