One of the songs I sing the lead vocal for our band Second Time Thru (shameless plug alert: ‘like’ us on Facebook to keep up with our schedule) is “Already Gone” by The Eagles. Some of my favorite lyrics of all time are in that song: “So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key.”
Sadly and ironically, this seems all too true. The chains that bind us, sometimes to the point of hopelessness, are not tempered steel. They’re made from our fear. They also come in many shapes and sizes.
I was pretty outgoing for most of my life, comfortable speaking in class, presenting to groups, meeting a bunch of strangers. So any chains I may have had that affect those arenas felt pretty long and light. But some people avoid these situations altogether – for them, those chains choke them.
I remember what that feels like. For many years, I was also choked. I was afraid to ask girls for a date. Until about my mid-twenties, the only dates I went on occurred when girls asked me out. (It didn’t happen too often.) I don’t know where that chain (fear) came from. But I know why it persisted.
I was afraid to push through discomfort. I was afraid to stretch and pull on those chains and discover the truth that they aren’t steel – they’re more like taffy. I thought it would be shattering to be rejected, so I didn’t put myself in a position to risk it. I lived with loneliness and a feeling of inadequacy rather than face head on the possibility of being turned down for a dinner invitation. Wow – not a very good bargain!
We accept lousy deals based on the reluctance to stretch our chains. The Eagles said we don’t know we have the key. Maybe it’s more useful not to think about using a key. Maybe it is better that we find and nurture belief and energy. Maybe we need to summon a little bit of courage and enough self-discipline to endure a little discomfort in order to venture into new, risky territory.
We need to tolerate some risk in order to throw off the “golden handcuffs.” We need to accept rejection by some in order to better serve others. We need to take a stand for the things we believe in. These actions all point in the same direction – towards an authentic life.
Perhaps the biggest irony is that our fears, both perceived and real, are small compared to the joy we experience when we live in an authentic way. This is the Grand Illusion (to refer to another iconic 70’s tune, this one by Styx). We must dispel that illusion for ourselves and others in order to live more authentically.
Inter-personal communication is much easier and much higher quality when the involved parties are behaving authentically. This is the part of you that is not filtered through layers of defensive screens. This is the part of you that does not strike out against others, but seeks to support and nurture – to love – others. It’s the recognition that we are all connected, and that the good in life comes from supporting other people. It’s hard to be authentic when you’re saddled with clanking chains.