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The Big Idea

My wife watches The Bachelor. She may not freely admit this, but it gives her a chance to unwind and disengage her intellectual core after the grind that is grad school. Besides, I watch enough terrible shows myself.

As I was listening to a clip from one of the latest episodes, it dawned on me why relationships forged in the midst of a reality TV competition rarely work: it isn't about love.

While this my be a shocker to approximately 0% of the population familiar with The Bachelor, since I don't follow the show closely, it just hit me. What the women really want (or, the men, in the case of The Bachelorette) is to win. The falling in love and finding a soulmate part doesn't even matter. They like the idea of falling in love. What they really want is to win.

So, they disguise their want in the camouflage of an idea. By doing so, they think they can hold out hope that what they are really going after is in fact the thing they want. They hope that by winning they'll also fall in love and find their happy ever after.

And the producers of the show know this. They know they can put lots of women in a room together with lots of alcohol and one available guy and funny, outrageous, and scandalous things will happen. They then know that millions of people will tune in or TiVo to find out said scandalous things. And the rest sounds like money in the bank. After all, who doesn't want to fall in love? And, who doesn't want to win? And how many of us think that if we, too, could win at something, we also might find love?

But, a lot of us really just like the idea of something, as opposed to the real thing. These women like the idea of winning something on national TV. They don't really want to do the work of finding out about someone and whether or not you're really compatible.

In a similar fashion,

  • We like the idea of writing a book, but what we really want to do is create something. So we talk about how we hope to write a book, but end up never creating anything.
  • We like the idea of starting a business, but what we really want is to put our own dreams into practice. So, we let our dreams hatch and die because we think that we've got to get a small business loan before any of that can happen.
  • We like the idea of helping poor kids in Africa, but what we really want is to do something that matters. So, we wait and wait until we get the chance to fly across an ocean, letting our chances at greatness dissipate in the meantime.
  • We like the idea of fame and fortune, but what we really want is someone else to notice us. So, we think no one is watching as we live our lives on what we consider a small and insignificant stage.

What would happen if we chased after our deepest longings and worried about that big overarching idea later? Contestants on The Bachelor often forego the idea as they flirt and fight in order to win. They worry about the love when the cameras stop rolling. While I can't say this is a good thing, what if we, too, could push our big idea out of the way in order to accomplish our wildest dreams?

A lot of times, we need to get out of the way of our own ideas. Ideas come in moments of epiphany and can arrive on the scene with much pomp and fanfare. But meaning (what we really want) is often harder to recognize. The idea is the big sexy part that can be made into a catchphrase or printed on a banner. The meaning is trickier and can't be explained quickly in an elevator pitch.

The trick is to shatter our idea and find out what's really there. Throw your idea up against a brick wall or smash it on the sidewalk. Look among the mess of your best laid plans and find what it was you really wanted all along. Like an archaeologist discovering a precious buried artifact, there among the ruins we find what we really wanted.

Dust it off and put back the pieces of who you always wanted to be.

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