One-Trick Ponies and Sailboats

Sometimes there’s something we become known for, and no one wants us to change. The relationships and worlds we inhabit just work with us playing our little roles.  In fact sometimes we don’t allow ourselves to morph, change, or move on because we think of ourselves as the gal who totally __________ or the guy who always _______________.

What’s in the blank for you? Are you the one who always…


  • wears red?
  • drinks Yuengling?
  • stands in the corner?
  • plays softball on Sundays?
  • entertains everyone with your jokes?

And do you like wearing that, drinking that, doing that? If so, great; that’s beautiful. But others feel like they’re seen as one-trick ponies and yet they know they are so much more multi-dimensional than the world knows.

If you don’t like the role you’re inhabiting, the rules you’re following, why stay stuck? You may not be able to change everything in your life, but you can change something.

Have you ever thought of all the factors that conspire to keep you where you are? Change is hard. There’s a common image in family systems therapy that talks about mobiles, those Calder-esque things that hang and  are connected by filaments. When you set one part in motion, the whole thing wobbles. Aren’t families and offices and communities like that? You mess with one part (even for positive change), and it all has to adjust. And not everyone wants to have to react to the ways you change.

Let’s say that you are desperate to go to a particular college, and yet you know that they will reject as many strong candidates as they will accept. And yet the one thing that stands out about you is that you are the missing link in their almost-complete orchestra for you play the saxophone, and last year a stellar sax player moved on to graduate school. So they let you in, because you are the best sax player that applied. And now you’re in, and you damn well better be planning on playing the saxophone — even if it was only one of your interests pre-Yale. You won’t mind that if you truly love to play, but you might mind if you only emphasized your sax playing to gain a berth there and you’d rather spend your time in the pole-dancing club. The one-trick pony may be stuck in the barn.

It’s simpler if everyone stays in their roles or boxes or patterns. Then we know how the world will work, how the day will go. Or at least we have that illusion, for we never really have the control we think we have, do we?

So do you see places in your life where you are a one-trick pony, and where you’d like to be more well-rounded or known as more well-rounded? Or do you like being known for a particular thing?

I’m more of a sailboat… headed in a general direction, sometimes moving fairly effectively though often stalling, but generally liking having the wind help me tack here and there, open to changing directions frequently.

Which are you? Which would you rather be?


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