One day, a farmer who loved nature was walking in the woods near his farm and came across an injured baby eagle that had fallen far from her nest. Knowing it would very likely die unless something was done to help her, he gathered her carefully in his hands and took her home.
The farmer’s attentive nurturing and care quickly restored the baby eagle to health. Soon it began spending time in the barnyard with some of the farmer’s other animals, particularly the chickens and turkeys. These feathered friends ate together every day, and the eagle quickly grew to full size—complete with a fifteen-foot wingspan.
Seeing the eagle was healthy and ready to leave the safety of the barnyard and set out on her own, the farmer decided it was time for the eagle to learn how to fly. So he contacted a naturalist friend of his who agreed to come and help.
One morning the two men stepped into the barnyard, and the naturalist picked up the eagle, gave her a toss into the wind, and said, “Fly!” But the eagle just sunk to the ground, rejoined her earthbound feathered friends, the turkeys and the chickens, and joined them in pecking away at their food.
The farmer and his friend repeated this same exercise many times over the course of the next two weeks, but despite their numerous attempts, they always met with the same results. The eagle had no interest in flying and was more than content to walk across the yard instead of soaring above the earth. But then the naturalist came up with an idea. “Be ready early tomorrow morning, and I will come and get you and the eagle,” he said to his farmer friend.
The next day the naturalist picked up the farmer and led him and the eagle to the top of a nearby mountain, just before dawn. Above and below them eagles were flying high and low, soaring effortlessly against the backdrop of a sky, alive with the promise of a new day.
The eagle, used to being confined by the limited earthly bounds of the barnyard, was astounded by what she was seeing. However, after only a few short minutes, her astonishment gave way to curiosity, and she began to look inquisitively at the strange new sights around her. She had never seen birds, much less eagles like herself, enjoying the freedom wrought by unencumbered flight. In that moment, inspired by the example she saw before her, the eagle shuddered with what seemed like new life and spread her wings fully for the first time. Then she mounted the wind and began to fly, never to return to the narrow confines of the barnyard again.
To be fair, it’s easy to understand why an eagle that’s never flown can so easily surrender something as significant and majestic as the gift of flight. After all, it doesn’t know what it’s missing. It hasn’t yet discovered what it feels like to be freed from earthly bounds. Nor has it ever experienced the sensation of soaring amongst the clouds, gliding along almost effortlessly, buoyed by the invisible currents of the wind.
Another thing the eagle doesn’t realize is the significance her surroundings have on how she chooses to live her life. I’m not speaking solely of her physical surroundings, but primarily of her personal surroundings. Slowly, insidiously, naive to the full effect the example of her flightless feathered friends has on her life, she became content pecking about the barnyard despite possessing the potential to do so much more. Settling for a life far smaller and narrower than she was capable of achieving, she surrendered one of her greatest strengths, the ability to fly, without even putting up a fight.
Many of us forget how easy it is to become like the eagle in this story. After all, we too can be lulled into thinking our current circumstances are as good as it gets. We too can lose sight of the significant influence those we choose to surround ourselves with have on our lives. Just as we too can forget how settling for the comfort and safety of the status quo is an impediment to our growing into the best version of ourselves.
As the once-earthbound eagle in our story affirms, we are the primary architects of our reality. What we choose to do and who we choose to do it with makes all the difference in determining if we, in the end, will succeed in pursuing a path that will enable us to lead our lives in a more excellent way. Leaving each of us to ask ourselves if the example we are currently projecting in our proverbial “barnyards” is encouraging others to accept mediocrity or challenging them to stretch their abilities and discover the full extent of their capabilities so they too can become the best version of themselves.