Take the Red Pill Every Day
Recently, I had a close encounter with death. Death is an excellent advisor. Knowing of one’s imminent demise puts everything in perspective and helps cut through all the bullshit. So, while in the midst of my recent rendezvous with death, I asked “death” for advice: “What do I need to know to get the most out of life with the time I have left?” The answer was immediate: Take the Red Pill every day…
In case you’re one of the few people reading this article who did not see the movie, The Matrix, let me explain. In the movie, the main character, Neo, is given the option to take a blue pill or red pill. The blue pill represents playing it safe, self-deception, and living in a dream world. On the other hand, the red pill represents taking a risk, searching for the truth, and embracing one’s higher destiny.
Of course, Neo takes the red pill. Who would want to see a movie where the main character goes for a life of boring, self-deceptive unconsciousness? No one. Yet, for too many days of my own life, I have taken the blue pill. I expect I’m in good company. So why do we take the blue pill day after day? I think it has to do with the fact that it’s super easy to go the way of the comfortable blue pill. Also, we forget that our time on Earth here is very limited.
What Would You Do?
At the last Burning Man festival, I did an interesting experiment with the concept of the Red and Blue pill. I knew that the 75,000 people who go to Burning Man each year are certainly red pill takers. After all, it’s not easy to spend a week in the middle of the desert in August with 75,000 other people.
Knowing people go to Burning Man to take the red pill, I figured I’d offer them a red pill. I literally walked up to complete strangers — took out a big red pill — and said to them, “Would you like to take the red pill?” Immediately, everyone “got” what I was referring to…
The most common reaction to my offer was people would ask me, “What’s in the red pill?” After all, they didn’t know me from Adam. Maybe I was a lunatic who gave out deadly red pills. When I heard their question, I would calmly respond, “I could tell you that, but that would be a choice to take the blue pill.” Once again, everyone immediately understood the reference.
Now my unsuspecting prey at this red pill festival were in a quandary: Should they take this red pill from a total stranger, or should they play it safe at a festival where the whole point is to step outside your comfort zone? What would you do in such a situation? It’s easy to say, “I’d take the red pill,” but much harder to do it. Many of the people I approached sweated heavily before they made their decision.
I’m happy to report that, while at Burning Man, about 90% of people took the red pill. Yet, when I tried the same question in a shopping mall in a city nearby, no one took the red pill. Not a single soul was willing to step out of their lives and take a chance on a stranger with a unique offer. I understand. I probably wouldn’t either. But that’s the problem.
Western society does some things really well. Most of us have access to air conditioning, heating, TV, and even the Internet. Yet, with all this comfort comes a downside. We’ve become addicted to comfort and security. If we’re not careful, these two societal forces can crowd out our joy, play, risk-taking, and desire to be fully alive.
But death is a good reminder for us to live fully each moment. In 2005, at a commencement speech at Stanford, Steve Jobs said this:
“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
I knew Steve Jobs in high school. We were in a computer class together way back in 1973. Even back then he had a sense of urgency about him. He wasn’t the brightest guy in the class, yet he was the only kid I’d ever met who seemed fearless in being who he was. Even though he could be somewhat of an asshole, when he died, I felt the world had lost a great man.
Recently, as I contemplated Steve Jobs's words about living each day as if it was your last, I realized how deeply I had failed to do that. Like most folks, I live my days pretending I have plenty of years left to do what’s really important. Of course, with Covid-19 around, I’ve felt a little less sure — and I think that’s a good thing.
Knowing that I could die any month, day, or minute makes me feel like I should take the red pill more often. No more putting off telling my wife and friends how much I love them. No more stuffing what I really feel just so I can fit in and be polite. No more wasting time on superficial bullshit when there is so much to appreciate in the people and places around me.
By the way, the red pill I gave out at Burning Man was simply a red fish oil capsule. When people ingested it, they didn’t know what to expect. Yet, many of those who took the red pill came up to me later and said, “What was in that pill? I felt so open and alive after taking it!” Evidently, just the intention to take a red pill is enough to open up new doors.
So it all comes back to the advice I received from my recent close encounter with death: …take the red pill every day. It may be a small red pill like taking a walk with someone you love, or perhaps a big red pill like asking for help with something that pains you. What “red pill behavior” looks like will be different for different people. The key point is that it’s wise to live life with fearlessness and gusto — before it’s taken from us. After all, you never know when your time is up — so take the red pill as much as you can.