Unlocking Ourselves

A story about the legendary escape artist, Harry Houdini, demonstrates the danger of mistaken assumptions. According to the tale, Houdini began his career by traveling throughout Europe visiting small towns and challenging the local jailer to bind him in a straitjacket and lock him in a cell. He had no trouble until he reached a small Irish village. In front of a crowd of townspeople and newspaper reporters, Houdini easily broke free of the straitjacket, but he failed to unlock the cell.

After everyone had left, Houdini admitted defeat and asked the the jailer to release him. Then the jailer confessed the trick. He had never locked the the cell door, and Houdini never pulled on the unlocked door before playing with its lock. Houdini had succeeded in locking himself in!

Marcia Wieder, who tells the story, asks, “What is the Houdini in your life?”

We often lock ourselves in— rather than break out of our “cell.” This is because we do that which FEELS comfortable. We continue to engage in activities because we become accustomed to what we do—regardless of how ineffective, unproductive, and wrong they may be.

I have a tendency to be goal directed. Having a goal in my pursuits feels right to me. I almost lost my life—along with my wife’s and daughter’s because of it. We were cross-country skiing in Yosemite on a beautiful winter day heading out for a magnificent view. Unfortunately, we left too late in the morning, but that did not stop me from reaching my goal of the view from Dewey Point. By the time we reached our destination, ate our lunches, and started the return to our motorhome, the shadows from the tall pine trees hid the view of the trail markers. At 1:00 in the morning, we concluded that we would not make it back that night. We survived by huddling in a dry area and getting up every fifteen minutes to run in place to keep warm during the 15 degree (Fahrenheit) temperature.

Although I still enjoy knowing the direction I am headed, I unlocked the cell of my compunction to reach a goal at all costs. Interestingly, I have become more effective. Just ask my wife and daughter.