DB Blog 2022 – 01
In the 2009 Pixar-animated movie, Up, a young Carl Fredricksen meets a young Ellie Fredricksen, and finds that they share a love for adventure and a desire to go to a place called Paradise Falls, a beautiful location high up in the mountains of Brazil. (I think!) As they grow up and get older, we see a sequence of life events (they get married, get jobs, build a house, try to have kids) and at the same try to pursue their desire of going to Paradise Falls by saving enough money in a jar dedicated to their dream adventure. But every time they get close to having enough cash, something happens. Unexpected expenses keep getting in the way of their dream. Tragically, Ellie dies, and Carl is left a bitter old man, bitter at losing the love of his life, bitter at never realizing their dream of going to Paradise Falls, and bitter at the changing world around him.
(Super Spoiler Alert!)
I’m going to jump to the end of the story, because there’s a lesson there that constantly hits me deep. Somewhere in the story, a defeated Carl finds an album that Ellie made before she died. In it she collected memories from their life together, thanking him for the “adventure”, and encouraging him to have a new one. Despite not getting to go to Paradise Falls, Ellie wasn’t disappointed with her life. The adventure wasn’t a destination. It was the life they shared, including the dream they shared. Though they never made it to Paradise Falls in the way that they had hoped, we are reminded that there is value in the adventure of pursuing dreams, even unrealized dreams, because of the adventure it takes us on and the people we go on that adventure with.
I’ve been thinking about how the wrong understanding of “Paradise Falls” or our dreams in life take away from the purpose and joy of life, and sap away the hope and courage we need to go on great adventures. In my countless conversations with people about their business ideas, career paths, and life goals, I’m always struck by how common and unimaginative the ideal life has become.
In general, I can lump that dream life into this statement: “My goal (my Paradise Falls) is to become secure enough to do whatever I (and my family) want then give back.”
For some people, this “security” is financial security. “My goal is to become financially secure enough to do whatever I and my family want then give back.”
For others, security is an internal confidence, like being sure of a direction or getting enough validation that they’re on the right path. “My goal is to become so sure of my purpose that I and my family can do whatever we want then give back.”
And for others, that security is an absence of adversity and an absence of risk. “My goal is to remove the risks and obstacles in my way so that I and my family can do whatever we want then give back.”
The formula for today’s dream life (and maybe even the past’s dream life) is this: Dream Life = Security + Freedom + Impact, which are all amazing things, but are good examples of “Paradise Falls”, good pursuits in life that have gotten in the way of the pursuit of life itself.
Even the way we give advice today is based on which decisions and which paths lead to greater perceived security, greater perceived freedom, and greater perceived impact. The reason why I use the word “perceived” because more often than not our ideas of security, freedom, and impact are so ill-defined that we don’t really know what greater security, freedom, and impact actually looks like. So we follow strategies that we think lead to those things, thinking they’re right, only to find what most of us will or have found out: there is no amount of additional security that can make the insecure feel more secure, there is no amount of additional permission or added capability that can make a captive mind more free, and because these two prerequisites to living a life of impact are black holes, we never actually get to a point where giving to others becomes more important than filling ourselves.
For Carl (back to the Up story), going to Paradise Falls was the reason for everything. So not getting to go there meant everything was wasted. To Ellie, the adventure was the reason for everything, so she was happy despite their tragedies because she was on an adventure. Carl was so fixated on Paradise Falls that he failed to appreciate the beautiful adventure he had been on with Ellie.
Too many people are fixated on their security, freedom, and impact dreams, whether that be financial security from their careers, relational security from their spouses, validation from their peers, the impact of their political candidate, and more, that they are failing to appreciate the beauty of the adventure they’re on – and they think that’s simply being wise. They’re so fixated that as soon as their security, freedom, and impact are threatened or lost, they go nuts. They get depressed. They blame others. They give up.
This short-circuiting of people when their security, freedom, and impact are hurt has been on full display during the Covid pandemic. Because Covid prevented or even outright took away their “Paradise Falls” their ability to be purposeful, hopeful, courageous, and joyful, in other words, to appreciate and live out the adventure of life, disappeared. When the meaning of your life is “Paradise Falls” and Paradise Falls is taken away, you breakdown. Covid revealed how vulnerable we are physically and socially, yes, but also individually and internally because we’ve built our lives around Paradise Falls.
I think, like King Solomon who said that our common desires are meaningless, like Nietzsche who believed that we must rise above the petty aspirations society puts on us and pursue our own purpose, like St. Paul who considered everything a loss in his pressing on, like Frankl who believed we need greater meaning in life than simply surviving, and like Jesus who embodied a life of pilgrimage and invited us to take up our cross and journey with him, we need to go on our own adventures, not getting distracted by our own Paradise Falls, or how close or how far we are to Paradise Falls, but reminding ourselves to appreciate the unique adventure that is our own life every moment of the way.
My hope for us in 2022, is that we will go back to a spirit of adventure, pursuing beautiful dreams without losing enthusiasm even when it’s hard or if we fail, because we appreciate that the adventure in itself is worth it.
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