“The Eagle in the Chicken Coop” is one of my most popular speeches. I think one reason is that it’s more honest than the original New Age fable.
Eagles don’t stop being chickens the moment they see others being eagles. Once someone is used to being a chicken, it’s hard to convince that person to become an eagle — no matter how much better an eagle’s life may be. That’s because it’s easier to be a chicken than an eagle.
Chickens live in the safe shelter of a barnyard. Everything is provided for them. They have no expectations and don’t have to put in any effort. Eagles must work hard. They have to hunt for their own food, build their own shelter, and protect their children. They must earn everything they need to survive. While chickens enjoy the company of their flock, eagles often soar alone. Eagles may have freedom and independence, but chickens enjoy comfort and pleasure. That is until the moment the chickens are slaughtered and turned into someone’s lunch.
Even this inevitable doom is often not enough to convince an eagle to stop acting like a chicken. The pleasures of indolence and self-indulgence are difficult to resist. As printed on a t-shirt at Kohl’s, “Hard work pays off later, but laziness pays off now!” A couple tequila shots, a joint, and an adult Web site provide almost certain gratification. Compare that to hard work where the rewards come later, if at all. A chicken’s life has no failure and no disappointment because there is nothing to strive for or care about. Even if they get dissatisfied with their lives, they can fall back to chicken behaviors like hoping to win the lottery, blaming others or bad luck, and feeling like a victim while not making any efforts to improve.
With all this in mind, who would want to live like an eagle?
It’s because mediocrity gets boring after a while. You get tired of seeing your friends soar into the clouds while you’re still picking through the dirt for seeds. You get fed up with being locked up in a chicken coop while you watch others glide freely on the updrafts. You run out of excuses for why you didn’t go anywhere in life. You hate feeling like an embarrassment to your family, friends, and yourself. Finally, when your appointment with the butcher’s ax approaches, you realize in horror that you’ve done nothing with your life. You’ve made no mark, no contribution, nothing to give any evidence you had ever been on earth. And when you die, no one will notice or care. You’ll pass through someone’s digestive tract to be excreted, flushed, and forgotten.
As I said in my story, it’s your choice about whether you want to live as an eagle or a chicken. No one can force you to live differently, no matter how hard they try. If you choose to live like a chicken, remember that you are choosing a path that will eventually lead to emptiness, disappointment, and regret. You are not doomed to settle for this. You can choose better. It’s better to suffer a little now so you can enjoy a lot of happiness later than to enjoy a little happiness now and suffer a whole lot later. That is the choice of being an eagle or a chicken.