Why the Tortoise Really Won the Race (#667)

Most people are already at least somewhat familiar with Aesop’s fable of ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’:

The Hare was once boasting of his speed before the other animals. “I have never yet been beaten,” said he, “when I put forth my full speed. I challenge any one here to race with me.”

The Tortoise said quietly, “I accept your challenge.”

“That is a good joke,” said the Hare; “I could dance round you all the way.”

“Keep your boasting till you’ve beaten,” answered the Tortoise. “Shall we race?”

So a course was fixed and a start was made. The Hare darted almost out of sight at once, but soon stopped and, to show his contempt for the Tortoise, lay down to have a nap. The Tortoise plodded on and plodded on, and when the Hare awoke from his nap, he saw the Tortoise just near the winning-post and could not run up in time to save the race.

Then said the Tortoise: “Plodding wins the race.”

Now, if the tortoise is to be believed, she won the race because she “plodded”. But people who are successful rarely understand the true cause of their success.

While it may be true that the tortoise did indeed “plod” (which literally means “to proceed in a tediously slow manner”), she also did a few other things that may well have contributed more to her victory than she realized…

1. She was well rested

In the recovery movement, there is an acronym called H.A.L.T., which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. The idea is that when you notice yourself experiencing hunger, anger, loneliness, or fatigue, you should “halt” what you’re doing and focus on taking care of yourself.

Otherwise, you will tend to give in to temptation and make poor choices in an unconscious attempt to meet your needs in the moment instead of making those choices which support living the life of your dreams. Once you’ve taken the time to take care of yourself (i.e. you’ve eaten, rested, connected with others, and got yourself back to some semblance of equanimity), you can move forward confident that your inner guidance system can once again be trusted. While Aesop never tells us what the hare was up to the night before the big race, it’s clear that he didn’t get enough sleep to fully recharge his batteries and be at his best.

2. She stayed focused on her goal, not her “self”

One of the unspoken truths of success is that it’s considerably easier to achieve when it not about you. That is, staying the course or reaching your goal is best done by actually focusing on the goal, not on what it would mean about you to succeed or fail.

Had the Hare come to one of my seminars (or even worked with me as a private client), I no doubt would have pointed out to him that it’s easier to just win a race than it is to win a race in order to prove he was the fastest animal in the world.

‘Self-esteem’ is just a story we tell ourselves about our value and worth in the world being dependent on our performance. In fact, your value and worth in the world are a given, and have nothing to do with what you do or do not do with your life. They are your birthright, and no amount of success or failure in life will make you any more or less worthy of love and respect.

3. She kept on going until the race was done

I don’t know if the tortoise actually believed she could win the race when she started out, but somehow she knew to focus on what was within her control – bringing a disciplined approach to the race and keeping her feet moving until the finish line was crossed.

Although I was born too late to ever watch him play, I used to delight in stories about the tough mindedness and will to win of Detroit Lions quarterback Bobby Layne. Perhaps my favorite quote about him came from his college teammate Doak Walker, who said “Bobby never lost a game – sometimes, he just ran out of time.”

While some might point to the hare’s last ditch effort to cross the finish line first as showing ‘determination’, I would say it was just a desperate attempt to stave off the embarassment of losing a foot race to a tortoise.

Perhaps he would have done well to heed this quote from David Campbell:

“Discipline is remembering what you want.”

Have fun, learn heaps, and may all your success be fun!


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