3 Great Metaphors for Work and Life



“Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space.” — Orson Scott Card

I asked some friends what would they like me to write about for them (a personal blog post that speaks to them in some way and helps them solve a challenge they have.)

One of my friends asked if I could share three great short and memorable metaphors for work, emotional, physical, intellectual, and parental situations.

He wanted the metaphors to help make it easier to get back on track when he gets distracted.

So here they are …

1.  Be the Author of Your Life

When I present my seminar on Getting Results the Agile Way, one of the first things I remind people in the audience is that you are the author of your life:

You get to write your story forward.

You  write your story with the attitudes you choose, the chances you take, and the choices you make.  You begin to write your story each day from the moment you wake up.  You write your story each time you choose your attitude or choose your course of action. 

You write your story when you take on challenges. 

Your challenges are your chances to make better choices.

While you can’t change the winds, you can adjust your sails, and that’s what authoring your life is all about.  As the author of your life, you live life on your terms.  Being the author of your life helps you avoid the victim mindset and avoid the blame game.  Nobody wins when you play the blame game. 

In fact, the blame game is the fastest way to lose the at the game of life.

2.  Life’s a Game

Speaking of the game of life, here’s another metaphor that comes in handy.  If you think that life is a game then you can figure out how to be a winner at the game of life.  If you set the rules, you can win the game.

But you need to figure out the rules that work for you, and that work for the situation you’re in.

Too many people create rules that work against them.  For example, in order to be happy, I need to XYZ.  Or, in order to be successful, I need to have XYZ, etc.  Most people aren’t ware of their own rules, so just by paying attention to the rules you use will give you an advantage.

If you think of life as a game, the fist thing might do is find a way to enjoy it.  Have fun! Like a kid who plays baseball for fun, find a way to love the game.

Another way to change your game for life is to think about how you keep score.  It’s not a game of keeping up with the Joneses.  Instead, define your success from the inside out.  One way is to measure your life by the people whose lives you touch.

3.  Be Water

This is a Bruce Less classic.  The idea is to stay flexible and adapt to any situation.  It’s actually about avoiding attachment. 

Here is the original quote that Bruce Lee is famous for:

“Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water.

Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash.

Be water, my friend.”

But I thought I would go the extra mile and share the story that’s behind this quote.

Apparently, Bruce Lee was struggling with “the art of detachment” that Yip Man (his teacher at the time) was trying to help him master. 

In the book, Bruce Lee: Artist of Life, Lee writes:

“When my acute self-consciousness grew to what the psychologists refer to as the “double-bind” type, my instructor would again approach me and say, ‘Loong, preserve yourself by following the natural bends of things and don’t interfere. Remember never to assert yourself against nature; never be in frontal opposition to any problems, but control it by swinging with it. Don’t practice this week: Go home and think about it.’”

That week, Bruce Lee had a revelation:

“After spending many hours meditating and practicing, I gave up and went sailing alone in a junk. On the sea I thought of all my past training and got mad at myself and punched the water! Right then — at that moment — a thought suddenly struck me; was not this water the very essence of gung fu? Hadn’t this water just now illustrated to me the principle of gung fu?

I struck it but it did not suffer hurt.

Again I struck it with all of my might — yet it was not wounded!

I then tried to grasp a handful of it but this proved impossible.

This water, the softest substance in the world, which could be contained in the smallest jar, only seemed weak. In reality, it could penetrate the hardest substance in the world. That was it! I wanted to be like the nature of water.

Suddenly a bird flew by and cast its reflection on the water. Right then I was absorbing myself with the lesson of the water, another mystic sense of hidden meaning revealed itself to me; should not the thoughts and emotions I had when in front of an opponent pass like the reflection of the birds flying over the water?

This was exactly what Professor Yip meant by being detached — not being without emotion or feeling, but being one in whom feeling was not sticky or blocked. Therefore in order to control myself I must first accept myself by going with and not against my nature.”

Even if none of these metaphors work for you, hopefully they inspire you to choose new metaphors that do.

Keep in mind that we are all constantly using metaphors and they shape the world we see.

The key is to be intentional and make better choices about the metaphors you use so that you can inspire and ignite yourself, and become all that you’re capable of.

As the author of your life, choose your words and metaphors carefully.

Your metaphors are the emotional picture words that shape your life.

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  1. I love the quote about metaphors and the water story. “Be Water” Easily said…but so much to understand and absorb. Thanks for the background story, JD. I didn’t know that. 🙂 I feel enriched.

    • Every now and then I forget how profound Bruce Lee actually was. I like how a lot of his distilled wisdom can be unfolded and applied to so many aspects of work and life.

  2. thank you very much. I am facing a problem acgtully i follow my schudle for 4-5 days regularly than i dnt know what happened to me nd evry thing got distrubed. so plzz tell me what should i do .

  3. First, forgive yourself that things happen and that you’re human.

    We all face distractions, disruptions, and our schedules get away from us.

    The key is to get it back, and get better and faster at getting back on track.

    Next, schedule a 30 minute Friday Reflection with yourself each week, where you review what’s happening. Just ask yourself *when* do you get off track, and *how* do you get off track. This will reveal key insights. Then, ask yourself *how* you can get back on track.

    Add a few reminders to your calendar, where you tend to get off track, but in your reminder, add a simple question:
    “Are you on track?”

    And then add a few of your personal words of wisdom to inspire you to get back on track. Most importantly, write your best reason for *why* you personally want to get on track, and that will help you on your path.

  4. Hi JD. There are powerful words in your paragraph about being the author of your life. I find this quite empowering and scary at the same time. With our attitudes, thoughts, actions and challenges we are creating our life. Thanks for adding comments about the blame game. I played that game for many years, but I am more confident and have a more fulfilling life now that I have taken responsibility for my own life. I love the water metaphor. Thanks for sharing.

    • It’s such an interesting twist when we own our situations.

      The first thought that always comes into my mind is, “How do you get yourself into these things?”

      And, it reminds me that if I can get myself into certain situations, then I can probably avoid getting into those situations in the first place, if I know what to look for.

      We create so many situations in our lives by the thoughts, actions, attitudes, and choices we make. And this compounds over our lifetime.

      Sure there are the wildcards, but I’m a big believer in luck — where luck is when skill and opportunity come together 😉

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