Are we turning our lives into The Truman Show? It made an interesting discussion with my teenage son this afternoon. And I was surprised by how strongly the answer was ‘yes’.
In case you’ve not heard of the film, The Truman Show stars Jim Carrey as a man who was adopted at birth by a television company and grows up living in a film studio – the largest on the planet – blissfully unaware of the fact that everything that happens revolves around him. He has no idea that the world is watching his every movement, waking and sleeping.
#spoileralert There comes a point where he figures this out and struggles to escape, but the director triggers disasters that keep him in The Truman Show’s world, until one day Truman has to be heroic and push himself to the limit to achieve what he wants.
My son and I discussed whether Truman was free or trapped – and we surprised ourselves with the answers.
Circumstances in the show are manipulated so that Truman never leaves, including the portrayal of his father drowning when Truman is a child, to leave Truman terrified of the sea that surrounds the island on which he lives. He has no idea that the people around him are paid actors who are trained to get him behaving the way the director – playing God – wants. He is clueless that his favourite foods are product placements or that his job is a fiction.
When we first watched the film, it was clear that Truman was trapped – that he was far from free to experience a ‘real’ life or to escape.
But was he?
If you don’t realise that there’s ‘another way’, are you really trapped? If you don’t use the door because you don’t realise it exists, wouldn’t you feel free? And the core theme of the film was that no amount of manipulation or fear could stop Truman from loving the woman of his dreams or pushing through his terror to escape to find her.
In each and every moment of the show, he was exercising free will, albeit within the boundaries that the show’s creator permitted.
And… surely that’s how most of us live our lives?
Our boundaries aren’t necessarily physical – we’re (hopefully – let’s ask Douglas Adams’ mice!) not living in an enormous film set where our thoughts and behaviours are manipulated so heavily as to be pre-ordained.
But we create our own boundaries: the comfort zones, limiting beliefs and fears which become the boxes within which we feel safe to experience life. Those thoughts, fears, anxieties and beliefs physically wire our brains to spot opportunities to play safe, discouraging us from experiencing the world from the perspective of genuine freedom.
We add onto that the obligations we feel as employees or business owners or mothers or loved-ones; the plates we feel we ‘have to’ spin, trying to keep those around us happy. These cause us to feel trapped, overwhelmed, stressed, obligated, stuck; anything but free. Choice feels like a dim and distant memory. It’s a modern epidemic – shoulditis.
Then we add in social media.
We have co-created a world with a billion mini Truman shows. But unlike Truman, whose world revolved around him without him realising, we’re watching a billion mini worlds, 24/7. And we compare our own mini Truman Show to the others in our social network. We judge them. We judge ourselves. Comparisonitis robs us of our sense of self, our confidence, sometimes even our hope. That’s not freedom.
The product placement from The Truman Show is still there – but in paid Instagram posts and Facebook adverts. Peer pressure makes us want to keep buying things we don’t really need, to try to make ourselves feel better; to fill that invisible void we can’t name.
We are scared to show who we really are in our mini Truman shows, putting our best side out there, comparing our ninety-nine deleted unflattering selfies to someone else’s airbrushed highlight reel.
We crave likes. We count friends and followers. We chase approval. And we find ourselves lacking. We wouldn’t want anyone to know how awful we feel if we put a post out there and it gets no response. Nobody loves me any more.
This leads to us feeding the mind-stories that we’re somehow not good enough, not popular enough, not successful enough.
So I actually think we have it harder than Truman, but it’s of our own making.
And it wasn’t even a conscious choice. That’s not freedom.
I’m curious: have you been experiencing this, too?
Do you think it’s a problem? Or is it a good thing?
And what do you think we could do to reclaim our power to choose whether or not we want to be on The Truman Show?
P.S. Want to do something about your limiting beliefs and hidden comfort zones? Here’s where to get started.