** A Spanish translation of this post appears in Semana **
Puppet world. Our realistic unreality. Our second home…far away from home.
Wait. Don’t get excited. Puppet world is not the magical land where Cookie Monster, Kermit, and the Goblin King put down pints as they swap stories. No. Evil forces forbid us from owning real estate there. Jerks.
Puppet world is merely our imagination. Equally magical but in a different way. Puppet world is where we go to live our life completely in our heads. In it, we replace all people with puppet versions of themselves. Our spouses, children, bosses. People we’ve never met. It sometimes looks like this:
Jane: Sam, I’m so sorry, but I can’t come to your party.
Sam: [Thinking: Jane can’t come to my party. She looks normal, but she’s clearly mad at me. I can’t believe she’s mad; I haven’t done anything wrong. Oh, I bet it’s because I had to cancel on her last year. I can’t believe she’s holding this against me. Fine. I’m going to give her the look. Oh, she sees it. She knows she’s never invited to my parties ever again.] That’s too bad, Jane. Sorry to hear this. (In a strained tone.)
Jane: [Thinking: Sam’s face is doing weird things like she’s talking to herself. I bet it’s stress. I hope she’s OK. I feel bad I can’t go to her party since John is sick. She looks like she’s going to cry, and her voice is quivering. She must be overwhelmed with everything going on, and she needed my attendance for support. Poor thing.] Thank you so much for understanding. Again, I’m so sorry. (In a deeply empathetic tone.)
Sam: [Thinking: Jane is such a patronizing jerk.]
Sam just interacted with puppet Jane, and Jane with puppet Sam. Playing with puppets even though they’re looking right at the real versions of each other. Mind blown.
Puppet world is extra special in other ways, too. There we write and watch plays rather than watching reality form and flow around us. We immerse ourselves in a puppet version of our future, trying to game and predict it through evolving scenes. As the final curtain closes, we pocket the script and carry it back to our present, using it to derive our feelings, thoughts, and actions. Ever experience something like the following? (For another example, check this out.)
Jane: Hey Sam, have you seen this? It might be a cool opportunity for you to explore. You should call them to chat and learn more.
Sam: OMG, OMG, OMG, that looks so cool. I’m going to send them an email today. [Makes mental note to invite Jane to her next party after all. Slips into puppet world. Commences play about what happens when the email is sent. Watches the epic tale of failure, stress, and ridicule. Play ends. Email doesn’t even get written.]
Our puppet world plays aren’t bad, per se. They’re either powerful or not powerful. The good news is we get to decide how powerful they are. We get to write and direct the play…unless we turn it over to the Governor.
You see, puppet world has a Governor who takes over when we aren’t paying attention or owning our power. An alleged love child of Eeyore and Chicken Little, the Governor likes his plays to unfold into scenes of failure, rejection, or even injury and death. The Governor isn’t technically a jerk. His intention is to protect us. I think. Or maybe he is a jerk, and his intention is to keep us from discovering our light and shining it in this world unapologetically. It doesn’t matter. The important part is knowing he’s there. And knowing puppet land exists. And accepting we live there part time.
The question isn’t whether you have a second home in puppet world. You do, and you’re stuck with it unless you replace your brain with some sort of artificial intelligence chip. (Creepy. Please don’t do that.)
The question is, “When do you want to visit puppet world, and who do you want writing and directing its plays?” The question is really all about owning our power to choose.
Choice: When in relationship with another human, we have a choice about whether we interact with them or their puppet doppelgänger. Choosing the real person requires connection and sometimes being vulnerable. It means inviting them to co-create with you — to write and produce their parts of the narrative. This invitation involves listening deeply and asking curious questions to uncover what they feel and think. About what they’re going to do and why.
Choice: When pursuing a goal or opportunity, we decide whether to stay in our present reality and choose feelings, thoughts, and actions in the moment that bring us closer to our dreams. We have a choice to accept that we can’t know and predict outcomes. (Seriously, we’re really bad at this. Almost as bad as we are at predicting what our loved ones want and think, which we stink at according to my BFF, Science.)
Choice: Even when we choose to travel to puppet land, we’re still in choice. It’s an imaginary world for imaginary play. It’s literally designed to be what we choose it to be. Do we want to write and direct a play that weaves a powerful story, or do we cede control to the Governor?
Choice: But what if we go to puppet land accidentally, you ask? Surely we aren’t in choice now? Well, this can happen. Sometimes we go into autopilot and find ourselves in puppet land, not remembering the drive. However, the moment we wake up, we move into choice. If we look around and see the Governor has run amuck, do we choose to believe his play? I mean, I get it. His plays feel real. Our imagination is a beautiful, tricky machine. We cried for three days after reading Old Yeller while our real dog stared at us, confused and very much alive. No animals were harmed in that production. But whether lost in a book or the Governor’s play, it isn’t real unless we make it so.
Awareness. Choice. We’ve got this.
So, over the next few weeks, I ask you to be an observer of yourself. Look for moments when you venture to your second home. Notice yourself with the puppets. Watch the plays. Look for the Governor. And then ask yourself a few questions:
- When do you choose the puppet version of someone in your life? What might be possible if you chose differently?
- When do you leave the present moment to visit puppet land? What do you seek there? What if you chose differently?
- When in puppet land, who is directing the play?
- If you chose to write and direct the play differently…powerfully…what would change?
- When do you use puppet land powerfully?
- When does puppet land keep you small?
We’d love to hear your comments and thoughts. Please share in the comments!
Samantha Crowe, PhD is a personal and professional coach, leadership advisor, speaker, mompreneur, and recovering neuroscientist. She is founder of Evalia Consulting, LLC, which seeks a world made better through empowerment, growth, and connection. Samantha serves this world through 1:1 coaching, speaking, consulting, and writing. Follow her on LinkedIn, YouTube, and Facebook. Enjoy this post? Consider following Samantha’s blog.