Throughout nearly a decade of mentoring young professionals, I have noticed an interesting, but disconcerting pattern.
Growing up in Russia, our television only broadcasted 3 channels, and they were in black and white. Books were our prime source of entertainment so my parents used to read my brother and me fables. They hoped that besides providing some diversion, the stories would teach valuable lessons to shape us into good, moral men. Many years later, as an entrepreneur and mentor, I find myself frequently recalling one of these fables: The Fox and the Grapes.
To sum up the fable: A fox is strolling through the forest, grows thirsty, and sees a bunch of succulent grapes hanging from a vine overhead. Desperately hoping to quench his thirst and taste the delicious grapes, he reaches up to grab the grapes. He fails. He tries again but fails again. After repeated attempts to reach the grapes, he gives up entirely. He walks away and justifies the failure, ‘I didn’t want them anyway; they were probably too sour and unripe.’
I run a management training program in Long Beach, and when new participants join the team, I like to ask questions about their goals and why they took the position. Most newcomers excitedly express a desire to run their own businesses, impact people’s lives, or have the freedom to control their own destinies. I love their energy, and it’s often contagious. However, when it comes to developing future business partners, I’m most interested in what happens as they continue to progress. How will this individual react when she begins to hit walls? What will she do when the going gets tough?
As you might expect, the truly dedicated professionals remain committed to their aspirations, despite whatever challenges come their way. They go through the tough times like everyone else does, but they make the right choices. They choose to be honest about their challenges; they put their egos aside; they ask for coaching. These are the people who learn and grow, and ultimately become successful. These are the people whom I choose as business partners.
But then there’s another group: those who get frustrated, don’t ask for help, and ultimately give up. Upon leaving, they cry ‘sour grapes’. They tell me that the long term opportunity (about which they were initially so excited) was probably too sour and unripe anyway.
Wait a minute… All it took were a few challenges to cause you to abandon your goals? Did you stop caring about changing underprivileged lives or retiring your parents? You no longer want the freedom to make your own choices as a business owner? You’re no longer passionate about rescuing animals or paying cash for your children’s college educations?
Like I said, it’s a disconcerting pattern. As a mentor, it’s never a good feeling to see a person with loads of potential choose to throw in the towel; but it’s especially frustrating to see that person abandon their passions and goals.
Entrepreneurship, like other profitable careers, is one in which people can be greatly rewarded for their hard work and commitment–if they are able to overcome certain challenges. But unfortunately, as Thomas Edison so wisely expressed, “Opportunity is often missed because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work”. ‘Work’ has an incredible power to make people change their goals. A person who seems passionate about climbing great heights is often scared away by the realization that great things take time and don’t come easily.
And by the way, I have tasted the grapes and they are ripe and sweet. I am grateful every day that I never stopped reaching. My hope for others is that they learn from the fox to keep reaching for the grapes, even when giving up is tempting.
Before you go, take a second to connect with me on Google+… that would be great.
Elijah Medge, Long Beach