This morning when I was driving home from the gym I saw a handwritten sign posted on a telephone pole near my house. The sign said “Lost tortoise! Please call 555-5555. Reward!” When I saw that I laughed out loud, wondering how someone could lose a tortoise. It’s not like they can run away from you like my pugs like to do the second I let them off their leashes!
But isn’t that how we lose our focus in life? Think about when you were young, maybe in high school or after that, when you went on to college or entered the work force. Most of us had grand ideas about what we were going to do with our lives.
You may have thought about how you were going to change the world by improving the environment, or by helping people less fortunate than you. You were going to have a family and raise your kids the way you wish you had been raised. Or you were going to do whatever it took to get rich so you could have all the nice things you ever wanted.
For many, those dreams end up being very different as the years go by. Maybe that marriage didn’t turn out like you expected, or your kids were far more difficult to raise than you could have dreamed possible. Maybe all the people you tried to help just continued on their own troubled path no matter what you said or did. Maybe that business you started went under, or the job that was supposed to set you up for early retirement turned out to be a dead end with barely a “cost of living” raise every year.
Whatever happened, it didn’t happen overnight. Dreams that don’t come true usually fade away gradually, a day at a time, eventually disintegrating so much they’re no longer recognizable. Until one day you wake up and you wonder what ever happened to the idealistic young adult you once were.
So this is how that tortoise got lost. The owner got distracted by something else — maybe it was a wonderful distraction or it was awful. Either way, that tortoise plodded away, slower than dirt but fast enough to get lost.
If you have lost sight of your dreams then you may feel like it’s too late, or that you were too idealistic in the first place and that life isn’t really ever like we think it will be when we’re young. Maybe you’ve come to a place of peace with this, and you’ve decided that in spite of letting go of your big dreams you’re pretty lucky to have what you do so you’re not complaining. Or maybe not.
I’ve been working with people for many years and the majority of you who are not living your dreams are still unwilling to let go of them completely. You’re the ones who live with a quiet (sometimes loud!) voice in your head that reminds you almost every day that there is more, that you could be living a more joyful, fulfilled, and meaningful life.
Sometimes that nagging voice tells you to stop ignoring it, that you need to sit up and pay attention and take some action. And you need to do it today.
Maybe the lost tortoise didn’t mean to run away from its owner. But it’s lost just the same. Somewhere in the desert foothills of Tucson, Arizona there is a little pet tortoise, trudging across the sand among the saguaros in search of food and water and perhaps an owner who loves it and took pretty good care of it. Until that owner stopped paying attention. Not for too long, but for just long enough for that little tortoise to wander off into the brush and get lost.
The thing about tortoises is that they don’t run away too fast, and with enough diligent searching they can be found again. Hopefully that tortoise-owner is out there looking for her lost pet.