The Hare & The Tortoise

You’ve heard the story of the tortoise & the hare, I’m sure. Big race, rabbit is a lock, turtle comes from behind because he never gives up, etc.

I really dislike how this story is told.

Every time you hear this story, its target audience appears to be tortoises. In other words, this story is always told as advice to never give up and keep chugging along, because then you’ll win!

Not only is that kind of silly advice, but it misses out on the amazing advice that this story actually holds if told correctly.

See, “slow and steady” might accomplish goals, but it doesn’t actually win races. “Slow and steady” is great advice from the standpoint of personal improvement. If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t worry about how fast you’re doing it – slow and steady is great advice. Lose weight in a healthy way, keep consistent, and you’ll get there.

But races involve other people. And in an actual race between a tortoise and a hare, the hare is going to win. Maybe you could tell this story as a sort of marathon-versus-sprint story, where “slow and steady” works because the turtle is a better distance runner than the rabbit or something, but that’s not the story at all. The real story contains a fantastic lesson, but it never seems to get emphasized.

The real moral of this story, the incredible value it contains, is this:

“Don’t blow an early advantage by being arrogant and lazy.”

That’s the power of this story. The tortoise didn’t win; the hare lost. The hare didn’t lose because of some inherent quality of the tortoise, either – the hare lost because it had a strong lead and took a nap. Arrogance and laziness lost that race. It had nothing to do with “slow and steady” versus quick. This lesson that if you just go “slow and steady” you’ll win every race is hogwash.

You’ll win every race you’re capable of winning, if you never get cocky and take naps while you’re still running.

Don’t mistake “being in the lead” with “already won.” This story should be told to hares, not to tortoises. If you tell this story to a tortoise, you’re saying “the other person might be better than you in the qualities measured by this particular competition, but if you just keep plugging away you’ll win anyway.” Ridiculous! If you’re the tortoise, you win only if the hare messes up.

So the lesson is: if you’re the hare, don’t mess up. And if you’re the tortoise, become the hare. You win the race by improving, not by just doing the same old thing over and over and hoping for a mistake from your superior competition.

And therein lies the deeper, perhaps truer meaning. Unlike the characters in the story, we’re none of us trapped in the skin of a hare nor a tortoise. We can be either, each of us, and we can change over time. We can start the race as a tortoise but choose to put in the work to become a hare. And once we’re a hare, we can remember the lessons of this story, and we can do it all – we can be good at what we do, and simultaneously avoid the arrogance and laziness that threatens to unseat us.

Quick and steady wins the race.

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