This week’s story is inspired by my toddler Lucy’s obsession with unicorns. Now, it may be a chicken or the egg situation but what seemed shortly after Lucy demanding more unicorns in her life with incessant wailings of “I want nana-corn, mummy!”, it seemed that all children’s clothes where we shop (K-mart) sprouted unicorns on them.
I guess it goes to show that if you want something badly enough, the universe does deliver.
But what is this obsession we have, adults and children alike, with this mythical one-horned beast that may have originally been inspired by a famished rhinoceros? If you’re like me you’re seeing references to unicorns even in the unlikeliest of places. Like on LinkedIn for example. Here’s a lady who calls herself a unicorn and asks whether you may be one too.
Speaking of LinkedIn, once an addiction of mine, I’m now pulled back into the quicksand of LinkedIn stories thanks to my night-owl infant.
My eight-month-old wakes up usually between 2am and 3am and then pretty much every hour after that. This happens to be LinkedIn prime time for people in the U.S. posting stories that toot their own horn or blatantly sucking up to their managers or companies by stating how great it is to work there, how much they love their jobs and other fawning that they’re allowed time in their day to walk away from business-as-usual to post on LinkedIn.
I look at this stuff and I judge, severely.
If you’ve been reading my stuff for some time, you may know that career success within an organisation has eluded me. In fact, I’ve been fired from jobs repeatedly. Once in the U.S., once in Turkey, and a whopping six times in Australia, not to mention the three that I quit for not matching my (fantasy world) expectations.
It’s all my fault for not being realistic about who I am. For starters, I’m not a unicorn or anything else remotely related to what businesses want. I’m a writer (here I am writing, what more proof do you want?) and my days of trying to cram myself into cubicles is most likely over (“never say never” they say).
Born to Run
Why am I so bitter?
Why does the avalanche of workplace flattery and shiny, happy employees crushing and flaunting their KPIs (Key Performance Indicators to those uninitiated to start-up jargon. This can be anything from gettings thousands of followers to making X millions in sales or reducing production costs, increasing efficiency as defined by some idiosyncratic metric, etc…) make me want to smack them upside the face with a unicorn’s stuffed head, poking their eyes out with the horn?
Truth be told, there’s a part of me wishing I was in the running, smashing goal after goal, publishing my achievements and making my way to the top. I’d never admitted this to myself until now as I’m typing these words.
And how did I come to realise this about myself?
Thanks again to LinkedIn, I got emotionally triggered by a post I saw about a conference on how women in insurance can develop a mindset to overcome adversities and navigate their way to the top of the corporate pyramid.
Why did these women want to be at the top so desperately? Isn’t it lonely at the top? Is the view from the top really worth it? I judged all these women who had a single-minded obsession with making it to the top of the pyramid in the insurance industry (yawn). Surely they were consumed by competitiveness. At what expense were they going to go to the top of a structure that most likely required inhumane hours at work, stripping them of time for themselves, their families and their own humanity?
I judged them because I have a shameful secret.
Like my oldest daughter, who rushes to the front row for children’s storytime, who has to be the first one to try every new activity, who has all the answers (and many of them wrong!) to questions of colours, letters and numbers, I too was born to run, very much like a racehorse wanting to turn everything in life into a competition where there’s only one clear winner.
Fortunately, recognising my traits in my daughter means we now have a character we’re creating for a story we are writing together (whether she knows it or not!).
Meet Unique Lucy – Racehorse, Unicorn, Wild Horse
Unique Lucy is a racehorse who’s all consumed with winning the race. Though she’s extremely driven, in top physical form, and probably the fastest runner in the race, she comes fourth at best.
She has lousy luck. She’s never had one jockey who could handle her power to maneuver her around all the other horses and into clear victory.
Her best friends are The Curse of Tutankhamun (Tut Tut for short) and National Lampoon (Lamps). They eat dandelions, enjoy the different types of grass growing on the race track and occasionally dig up what they think are truffle mushrooms and put together delicious meals and beautiful wildflower arrangements that push their senses and enjoyment of the miracle of life to its limits.
Both Tut Tut and Lamps only exert enough energy to keep themselves in the race. As bohemians, they are forever in search of sensual delights which they feed on during special races with beautiful ladies and well-dressed gentlemen in the audience, the well-manicured race track beneath their feet, sweet smells of floral wreaths and of course world-class horses with exceptional physique running alongside and in front of them.
They try in vain to initiate Unique Lucy to the beauty that surrounds them but she’s only after one thing – being the winner. When Lucy hears that Sound of Silence, a horse that’s won every race he’s run, will be racing them, her excitement goes through the roof and she puts herself through a rigid training program that isolates her from her best mates.
When the race day comes, Lucy feels something amiss in the pit of her stomach but thinks it’s only her nerves. She pays no attention to Tut Tut and Lampoon who have conspired to win back her friendship.
When the gates open and the race starts, Lucy is on Sound of Silence‘s tail. She pumps harder knowing she can overtake him. Showing unusual behaviour, both Tut Tut and Lampoon are on either side of her, running like fiends. Tut Tut takes off Lucy’s left blinker, Lampoon her right and all of a sudden Lucy sees the world in 360.
Oh the colours, the colours!
She sees a circus caravan in a distance and runs straight out of the racetrack towards it to find out what this strange vehicle is. It doesn’t take long for the circus ringmaster to realise that Lucy would make a most beautiful unicorn to delight the children of the land. Off she gets a colour job, her chestnut coat becoming a nice tinge of pink, a rainbow mane and tail to match and a piercing on her forehead to mount her silver horn.
She’s transformed into a magical creature. She’s a unicorn. Why remain a racehorse when one can become the most magical horse of them all, the elusive unicorn?
Show after show, late nights, the fakeness of the circus and having no space or time to herself to do what she loves the most, which is to run, it doesn’t take Lucy long before she longs to be back in the race.
Can she face the demotion to yet another ordinary racehorse?
There are no guarantees she’ll win if she gets back into the race but heck, at least she’ll get to stretch her legs again.
Back at the racetrack, she does beat Sound of Silence, but it’s a fluke. She stuns him with her rainbow tail, which no racehorse has ever seen in their lives. They all freeze and the victory is for Lucy to take.
The ceremony of the winner’s circle and getting her photo taken with the beautiful ladies and well-dressed gentlemen, Lucy feels empty inside.
Is this all there’s to winning?
She doesn’t see what the point is. Furthermore, the race life, where she’s got no control over when to run, where to run, not ever having the freedom to run in any way she wants, to wherever she wants, it slowly drives her mad. One day, she breaks free and runs for the hills, eventually finding a group of free horses, with whom she creates a garden that would stimulate Tut Tut and Lamps‘ senses.
She goes back for them and tells them about the garden she’s created with the others. Tut Tut and Lamps don’t need much convincing as they’d missed Lucy and realised that it was their friendship which kept them in the race rather than all the ceremony and glamour.
One Won, Two’s Company and The More the Merrier
So back to the women in insurance wanting to be at the top of some pyramid and the unicorn employee, (interestingly, the unicorn lady suffered burn-out recently and is now coming to terms with her workaholic tendencies), why do these people want to be the only ones to win some race that they didn’t set up themselves?
Why do they want to distinguish and in essence isolate themselves?
We are social creatures, aren’t we?
Why should some of us win and everyone else lose? We are all unique, like Unique Lucy with our unique talents.
Why don’t we bring those talents to a round table?
Work can be done without a linear structure. We are all adults here whose first order of business is to identify our personal values, understand ourselves so we are the ones leading our own careers.
This all comes with self-mastery.
Over to you…
When was a time you made a radical change in your life only to realise nothing had changed at all?
In our story example, before Unique Lucy realises her own needs for self-care and having her friends with her, it makes no difference whether she’s in the race circuit or the circus, she’s miserable operating under others’ expectations.