Life is a Business – Chapter 42

A series of essays on the past, the present, and the future

At this point in time, the vast majority of you have seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy and poor Frodo’s struggle to get that cursed ring back in the volcano. We could discuss a dozen great business and moral lessons portrayed in Tolkien’s books, but today, I want to focus on being tempted to take shortcuts to success.  Another “Golam” likely either works alongside you…or lurks inside your own head…get “The Precious” at all costs…the ends justify the means. Make sure you know early on in life what your Precious is and how to control your desire, before it destroys everything you are, or could become. Everybody has at least one – reach in your pocket and get it out right now, before it’s too late. Pretending it’s not there won’t make it go away; it only grows in strength unattended, just like “Saron”, Tolkien’s representation of the evil inside all of us.

By the Sixth Century A.D., the Seven Deadly Sins were identified which create categories to call out by name our “Precious”.  Here’s the Cliff Notes to help you out:

  1. Wrath
  2. Greed
  3. Sloth
  4. Pride
  5. Lust
  6. Envy
  7. Gluttony

Out of these basic human tendencies, we can develop an unlimited number of bad habits and self-destructive desires. If you want to be successful in business and in life, you must manage all of these at the same time. Emotionally, you will at different moments in time, experience the flush of each and every one of these desires…as did we all before you. It’s not necessarily bad; it’s just how we are hardwired as human beings. Understanding human nature (especially your own) is the foundation for everything you accomplish in life. A lack of understanding will handicap you for life; a refusal to manage around your weaknesses could handicap all of your descendants. Frodo kept his eyes on the distant mountain, pushed on and finally persevered…where are your eyes gazing?

“Come this way, I know a shortcut to achieving your goal” or an “easier path” to success. This voice will be in your ear the entire way; it will always be pulling you down a dark path where misery awaits you. Every time Frodo trusted Golam, he nearly died a horrible death, but luckily, he had true friends around him who would save him, sometimes from himself.  Ironically, the obsessed, greedy, deceitful Golem actually served to lead the hobbits to their desired destination, while all the time, constantly plotting to steal the ring back by any means necessary.  Unfortunately, you will have to co-exist with and use the skills of a few scoundrels in business, but keep them at arm’s length and control their ability to do serious harm. Never turn your back on these people and accept the fact that they will relish the chance to undermine, co-opt and steal your successes…even at the last moment when you think you are at the finish line.  Figure out what price it will take to make your associates throw you under the bus…then don’t stand at the curb and make it easy.

Listen to the counsel of the ones who truly desire your success and well-being, not simply their own. These people are usually parents, spouses, relatives, friends and co-workers with the courage and integrity to challenge our bad decisions and intervene when we are at danger. I cannot overestimate how important this support network is in crisis situations – those times when your judgment is clouded in the fog of war. Every chief needs a war council that he/she can trust to protect the blind spots in their field of vision. Develop yours and use them as a sounding board before making any major decisions or taking any drastic actions. What kept getting Frodo into trouble? He listened to one he should not trust instead of the ones he could trust, just as you will have happen at least once in your business career. Their voices are so smooth, warm and comforting; they ooze with compassion and concern for your welfare; they promise great rewards for following their advice. Like a shark, they usually smile, just before they eat.

If the surefire, safe road to long term success is two hours longer than the dangerous shortcut, get up and start walking two hours earlier!

In the final great lesson, if you ultimately fight your way to the edge of the volcano to get rid of your greatest personal demon or realize your greatest achievement, don’t hesitate like Frodo…throw it in quickly before it either consumes you or someone pushes you into the fire and takes it for themselves!

Your “Golam” is probably right behind you as we speak.

By Bill Hewgley