Red pill or blue?

by Dr. Anthony Paustian, the author of A Quarter Million Steps: Creativity, Imagination, & Leading Transformative Change

In the 1999 movie, The Matrix, Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishburne, holds out his hands, both containing a single pill: one red and one blue. Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, has to make a choice––take the red pill and free himself from life’s current limitations or take the blue pill and return to the status quo.

Life frequently presents us with both red and blue pills. The red pill provides the opportunity to imagine something different and create new ideas that will hopefully result in the change we desire. The blue pill typically keeps things as they are, regardless of a potential negative outcome. This red pill/blue pill choice is presented to us daily, with varying degrees of importance or outcomes.

When I was an undergraduate college student in the early 1980s, a couple of friends and I were driving back to campus in my 1974 Mustang Ghia after a long weekend at home. To say that this particular model of Ford’s flagship brand was by far its worst ever would be an understatement. However, I bought it myself, and I was proud to have it (or at least a used version of it).

As we drove down the road, the car began to vibrate ever so slightly. At first, we just shrugged it off as the result of bad pavement. But as we continued, the vibration worsened, and it became obvious it wasn’t the road causing it. After discussing it, one of us suggested that perhaps one or more of the wheels had loosened. So, we pulled over and checked all of the lug nuts––they were all tight. We got back into the car and continued onward having eliminated that idea. The vibration worsened and began to turn into a mild shimmy. We knew something was wrong, but we also needed to get back to campus for upcoming exams.

Like Morpheus in The Matrix, two hands were stretched out, each holding a pill that would result in a different outcome. RED PILL: Pull over at the next service station and let someone who is qualified examine the car and determine the problem. If the car had to stay for repairs, we could then find an alternate way back to campus. If necessary, we could even find an inexpensive hotel room for the night and proactively make some creative decisions as to how we address the current situation. BLUE PILL: Press on and deal with it later (the status quo).

We knew in our guts what had to be done, and we chose the blue pill instead. We chose poorly. After driving about 20 minutes or so down the highway, the shimmy became violent, and the stick shift, which I was holding in my hand at the time, disappeared. The transmission had fallen off the car while at high speed, causing an array of serious problems, not the least of which was that we were now stranded in the middle of nowhere.

We are frequently presented with red pill/blue pill moments, and yet we continue to take the blue pill––whether it’s continuing to spend money resulting in greater debt, pretending the conflict you have with someone at the office will just go away, continuing to take unnecessary risks when the rewards just don’t justify them, or wasting time watching Breaking Bad when that project sits unfinished on your desk.

Red pill options provide us the opportunity to be creative––to create new and hopefully better solutions to problems that aren’t going to go away by themselves. By taking the blue pill with my Mustang, it not only negatively affected my life but the lives of my friends and all of our parents as they had to spend time and money to rectify what should have never occurred in the first place.

Choosing the red pill can be scary at times because of the unknowns involved, but it’s those unknowns that provide us opportunities to become creative thinkers and make better choices.

Practice Challenge:  Do you have a tendency to keep making the same mistakes over and over? Are you doing things that you know in your gut you need to change? Then stop and take a pause. Take out a piece of paper, and at the top write a statement of the issue or problem at hand. Below that, create two columns with the words “Red Pill” and “Blue Pill” at the top of each column. Start with the Blue Pill column and create a list of probable outcomes if you continue treating the issue or problem the same way. Once complete, create a list in the Red Pill column of specific changes that could be made to address the issue or problem along with any and all possible outcomes resulting from each. Once done, take an honest look at both lists. Make a better choice than the one I made with my Mustang. It may not be easy, but it will ultimately yield a better outcome.

©2015  Anthony D. Paustian

PaustianLargeHeadDr. Anthony Paustian is the author of four books including his most recent, A Quarter Million Steps. For more information, please visit his website at


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