Everyone has heard the fable of the tortoise and the hare. It has been shared since time immemorial and has often been the subject of different interpretations, including some hilarious cartoons. Very briefly, the tale goes as follows. The tortoise and the hare agreed to take part in a race. The hare confident in his victory decided to take a nap under a tree. While he was sleeping, the tortoise slowly crept by and overtook his opponent. By the time the hare woke up and made a dash for the finish line, the tortoise had already won the race.
This fable is rich in productivity principles. Let’s pick them out.
Consistent steps add up
The tortoise knew he could not beat the hare in speed. God had created them too differently for that. Instead, the tortoise set himself a goal: To finish the race and slowly inched towards the finish line. His steps may have been small and slow but his goal was clear. He kept taking step after step until he crossed the finish line. One step may not win a race but if you take another after the first and another after that, eventually all those steps will add up to a journey.
Burnout is real
The hare started the race with a powerful sprint. Very soon, he had seemingly left the tortoise in the dust. At this point, he chose to find a shady spot under a tree and take a nap. There are many ways to interpret this. Perhaps the hare felt so secure in his victory, he became arrogant and lost focus. I like to think he simply got tired. He had started the race determined to show his opponent the skill gap between then. He went off as fast as he could and experienced burnout. He couldn’t go further without stopping to rest. Many of us make the mistake of starting too big when we try to build a new habit. If you have never exercised before, it might be possible to run for one hour on the first day you try it. Adrenaline and endorphins will see you through. At the end of the day, however, when your joints start to ache and you collapse in bed, it becomes harder to repeat the task on Day 2. This is the point where most people quit. If you had taken the time to establish a routine and moved up to more strenuous activities, you could have conditioned your body to withstand an hour of exercise every day.
The tortoise always kept his eyes on the ground in front of him. He did not stop to look at flowers nor did he pause to contemplate what a beautiful day for a race it was. He probably also ran into some animals along the way who were convinced he couldn’t win and laughed at him. Yet the tortoise kept taking each step. There will always be distractions along the way. This could be in the form of a whatsapp message, a call or a youtube video. Until you learn to ignore them, you will never achieve your goal.
Hardwork can beat talent
By all definitions, the hare was better suited for running a race than the tortoise. The hare was built for speed yet he lost. Talent is real. Due to a unique combination of factors, some individuals find themselves able to make progress faster at some tasks than others. Children who grow up to be award-winning musicians are not those who show the most amount of talent at the beginning of their musical career. Instead, it is those who develop the discipline to practice their chosen instrument for two hours every day. You might have all the talent in the world but if you don’t put in the work, you won’t achieve your goals.
Great talent X 0 = ZERO
When faced with a greatly talented individual, many people will develop an inferiority complex and stop trying. That’s a shame because they would have given up long before the point where talent becomes the deciding factor in who achieves their goal.
In every sphere of endeavour, there will be a few hares and a supermajority of tortoises. Yet the tortoises would win the race if they could harness the power of focus. As Jiraiya from the Naruto franchise would say “With perseverance, even a fool can move a mountain.”