Elevators as metaphors for life

In my office building is a bank of three elevators – “lifts,” if you’re British – designed, of course, to haul people around six floors. As you’d expect, they’re busiest at lunch, during the usual break times, and right about 3:55 p.m.

Around the corner, though, is a fourth elevator, tucked neatly into an alcove and facing a different corridor altogether. It’s become my favorite elevator, probably because people don’t think to use it, since it’s not one of the usual suspects in the official elevator location. It’s frequently quicker, usually offers a straight ride from top to bottom, and I really enjoy racing the other elevators because I almost always win.

Now, I never really stopped to think about why I like that elevator best until just the other day. I stepped inside behind a co-worker who was pushing a mail cart groaning with folders and files. Because she was taking up the whole section near the controls with her cart, she pushed her floor – 3 – and then looked inquiringly at me. “Ground, please,” I answered, adding, “I’ll just head to the back of the elevator.”

As I said that, I glanced at the back – which is, I must mention, actually a second door. See, my elevator opens in the opposite direction when it reaches the ground floor. I suddenly saw that “back” door in a completely new light. “Actually,” I said. “I don’t know why I called this the back, because it can just as easily be the front. It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it?”

Oh, wow. I love it when something so normal, so familiar, instantly transforms into a wonderful metaphor for life! When I suddenly realize that I’m looking at a choice or issue as if I have no other way to consider the circumstances, I’ve learned that I really need to seek a perspective switch to open up more options and reach a wiser decision. When it’s “this way and only this way,” I know I’m stuck!

Thanks to my favorite elevator, I now can add another metaphor to my arsenal of perspective busters. Sure, I can leave my blinders on, seeing the same old things, making the same old decisions, and doing things the same old ways. Or I can hit the button for the ground floor and walk out a totally different door with – whoosh! – a new perspective to energize me.

When I do that, in effect I yank off the blinders and take a good look around. Usually it means I can find a glittering new perspective – maybe even more than one – or choose a surprisingly different approach, or make a fresh, novel decision.

It’s almost Narnian – my own personal Wardrobe of wonders. I can move from one world – one mode, one perspective – to another in the space of six floors, rather like the Pevensie children moved from the war-torn world of 1940s Europe to the magical, mystical land of Narnia, where anything was possible. (You’ll find all this in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, a children’s series that’s far more than merely a children’s series.)

The more I think about it, I realize my Perspective Elevator also illustrates that old adage, “when one door closes, another opens.” My life is littered with decisions that sent me along a path I finally realized was not a good direction for me. But, as we can’t always go backward, often I had to keep moving forward, and sometimes that path was dark and took me into the woods with some fearsome unknowns. Whenever that happened, I always seemed to find a new path intersecting somewhere along the way – a door, you might say – that led me to a different place and a new option. What I’ve learned is this: while that original doorway may close, there are always others that appear along the way. We are very much the product of our experiences, which shape us, mold us, and let us enter elevators with double doors to carry us in brand new directions.

I’m thinking it might be a great way of looking at our choices, especially when we’re making ones that seem counter-intuitive. Maybe it’s walking away from a job that offers more money but less heart. Or dropping a burgeoning new interest because you need to mind the stress levels. Or saying no to one opportunity because an equally compelling one beckons. Or discovering the door you thought would be there is tightly shut so you have to try a different one.

Some people may think you’re nuts to pass up that job, or to stop participating in something you’re so good at, or to choose one opportunity over another. Each time that happens you choose the door in the back of the elevator, which takes you to a new beginning or down an exciting new path. Whether you know it or not, it has always ushered you toward the person you have become and are still becoming.

That door in the back of the elevator? Who’s to say it’s not actually the front, leading you to something brand new and wonderful? That’s a pretty good metaphor for life, courtesy of a something as commonplace as an elevator. I hope you’ll never step inside one again without checking for a back door. And when you see one there, I hope it makes you think of things a little bit differently.

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