The grey hair and the tortoise

Fables have been used for centuries to pass on lessons to live by. They’re etched into our childhood memories and recalled easily with a whiff of nostalgia. But how we view them nowadays is refracted through a modern prism of social mores and VR goggles. We’re far more likely to question the message, challenge the stereo typing and decide if they’re right for our own particular human condition. It’s not that we no longer need life lessons and morals; far from it! We just kick the pumpkin coach tyres a bit more.

The hare and the tortoise always irked me slightly, probably because I was so much a high octane, risk-taking mad hare and not a tortoise. ‘Slow and steady wins the race’ is the way it’s told, but had the hare not been overconfident, the tortoise would have lost the race, no? I believe there are plenty of ways to skin this particular rabbit saga…

Learn from failure

The hare understood his mistakes and challenged the tortoise to another contest. This time he didn’t underestimate his opponent but remained alert and energetic throughout the race and won.

In my late 1990s ‘youth’ I was most definitely the hare. I had energy enough to work 16 hours a day for three years building a dotcom the first-time round (datamining through global email assets based on family surnames since you ask). I put my money where my mouth was, the stock market beckoned and I can truly say I’ve been there, got the tee-shirt… and promptly lost it off my back.

I was committed 100%, I was brave, I took risks, and I behaved ethically (you know you’ve done right by everyone when the accountant and lawyers your company owes money to ask you what you’re doing next as they want to be involved) but I didn’t listen to those far wiser than me. The experience I gained through making very expensive mistakes has stood me in good stead, however.

The grey hare says:

  • Behave with integrity with everyone at every level.
  • Be honest about mistakes and ask for help.
  • Share knowledge and contacts – what goes around really does come back round.
  • Be flexible in your ideas – those who adapt and change when external forces wreak havoc with your ‘best thing since sliced bread’ concept/product/service are the ones that succeed. Often at an even greater level.
  • Really listen to the opinions of those you trust, especially NEDs and mentors. You can take their advice or not, but if you don’t hear it in the first place you’ve already lost out on something that might well make or break your business.
  • Seek out the right advisors and partners for YOU, not because of their renown. They should be complementary to your skill set as you certainly don’t need a clone telling you you’re right about everything. Look for the challenge but not the contrary.
  • Get everything in writing. Good governance is critical.
  • Ask for favours but be prepared to give something in exchange, enthusiastically and willingly. This creates value for both parties and it feels great.
  • Be strict with yourself when it comes to mental well-being and health; you really notice it when it’s gone.
  • Know when to quit (see bullet above).

Identify your strengths and use them

Winning didn’t make the hare better than the tortoise who was sensible enough to realise that his strengths were just different. The tortoise challenged the hare once again on the condition he got to choose the track. The starting pistol went bang, and the hare bolted off but was stymied by a small river between him and the finishing line. The tortoise caught up, chugged across the river in his coracle shell and won in style.

It never pays to compare oneself to others. Emulate yes. Admire yes. Be motivated by, yes. But direct comparison? Madness. We’re all individuals, which is one of life’s greatest joys but being content with who you are takes self-belief and knowing your strengths. These will come to you as you travel through life; how you deal with relationships, disappointment, success and pressure through to how you apply yourself to tasks, education and learning new skills. Then you just need to find something you love doing with all that strength.

The grey hare says:

  • Potential employers or business partners will believe in you if you can look them in the eye and say: “this is who I am and what I do well”.
  • On the flip side, be honest about what you don’t feel you can or want to do. No-one’s time will be wasted, nor expectations go un-met.
  • View your attitude and abilities as your passport to success. They allow you to go anywhere, anytime. You may need a visa to go somewhere special once in a while; you just need to apply (yourself).

United efforts reap better rewards

Seeing the tortoise win the race with his cleverness, the hare decided they could achieve great things if they worked together. Teamwork in the next race saw the hare carry the tortoise on his back until the river and then the tortoise took over.

Through choice of role, most of my career has been spent working self-sufficiently; alongside others of course, but not as an integral team member. Then out of the blue a few years ago, I had the opportunity to change this completely when I said ‘yes’ to joining a tight knit, super bright delivery team on a Cloud transformation programme. As a woman on the grey side of blonde (ahem) with no technology skills it was a ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ moment and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Four years down the line I’m now a one-third founder of a dynamic new tech start-up called Aitemology™, creators of a unique digital and business transformation Plug and Playbook series (Cloud, Change, Consult, Productise). I’ve followed my own advice and been flexible, considered what makes me tick, what skills I can offer, and found complementary partners who challenge me but also listen. We learn from each other, pushing our thinking hard along the ‘what if’ path.

We are the epitome of modern-mix inclusivity represented by age range, ability, character, gender and colour.

STEM isn’t all about science. Or technology. Or engineering. Or men… sorry, I mean maths. I’m ‘living the dream’ proof! My home is on the non-technical, softer side of the business (though a client had a valid point recently when he asked: “Why is it called the softer side when it’s the hardest bloody bit to do?“) where I’m well suited and add considerable valuable. My grey hairs lend critical gravitas, empathy and understanding honed from life’s hard knocks, and years of multi-discipline business experience that’s as important as even the most innovative technical wizardry. I occasionally have to smile knowlingly and suggest some whippersnapper ‘gets some years in’ but it’s meant with the utmost encouragement and positivity.

The grey hare says:

  1. Know yourself – this will give you the confidence to try something new.
  2. Resilience – it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you deal with it so stay flexible and roll with the punches.
  3. Self-belief – know you’ll always be alright; it may just take a while. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
  4. Stay interested – never lose your curiosity or appetite for learning.
  5. Welcome change – both personally and in business. Nothing in life stays the same, but that’s what makes it exciting.
  6. Equanimity – treat everyone the same and help others; what goes around comes around.
  7. Don’t race to get through life; it will fly by without any encouragement from you so make sure you enjoy the ride.

Take care!

The grey hare

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