Contrary to Popular Opinion

It seems that, for every possible course of action you could take, you could easily find a proverb to support it.

How are you meant to know if this hand of cards is one you should be playing or folding? If you should be doubling down and going all in, or should be cutting your losses, allowing you to focus on other projects that could be the real way to success?

You hear countless stories of people who’ve done both and won.

For every precept, there is an equal, and opposite, re-precept, telling you to do the conflicting action instead.

Should I “look before I leap” or is “he who hesitates lost”?

“Haste makes waste” or “time waits for no man”?

Should I “never put off till tomorrow what I can do today” or should I “cross that bridge when I come to it”?

Self help books are full of stories that reinforce such axioms. In one chapter, you’ll read the story of Mike, who worked hard on his business, even though he didn’t get any customers, fueled only by his passion and self belief. Ploughing through “no” after “no”; he keeps on keeping on, in the face of all this rejection, even sleeping in his car, eating noodles and rice, because he has no money left. Eventually, Mike gets the break he deserves, becomes a millionaire and now resides in a mansion in Los Angeles, where he parties with Angelina and Brad until 4am every night.

Every night.

In the next chapter however, you’ll read about Tony, a clever man that has spent time learning lots of different skills and businesses, so that he could test them in the marketplace, before deciding which one to focus on. He’s celebrated by his peers as being clever for hedging his bets, biding his time and being adaptable to the marketplace. He spots when something isn’t working and pivots. He too ended up sleeping in his car, so he can learn more skills; until he too made it big, living in a whopping mansion and partying with Brad and Angelina until 3am (Not quite as big of a party animal as Mike).

Whatever action you take; whatever result you get, there’s an adage to stick out it’s tongue and say, “I told you so!”.

Should you take on extra staff because “many hands make light work”, or would “too many cooks spoil the broth”?

How am I meant to know, right now, which is the right one to listen to?

You can’t, so stop trying.

Proverbs are small and pithy hits that can either provide you with a moment of peace, or rack you with doubt and fear, always AFTER the event has long gone, as you ponder on whether you made the right choice.

They don’t inform you; they can only be used to justify, or apologise for, your actions.

Using a proverb to guide you is like randomly picking a horse to bet on; they’ve all been winners in the past at some point, and they no doubt will win again, but, right now, you have no idea which is the right one to bet on for this particular race.

So, what do you do? Well, if you’re smart, or at least want to have a shot of winning some money, you pay attention to the things that matter – the conditions, jockey, weights, form and handicaps (I must admit, I’m googling this – I wish I’d never gone with a horse racing analogy).

In short, you pay attention to the stuff that matters, not the name of the horse.

Choosing a course of action for your work because of a inspirational Facebook image is like choosing the winner of a horse race because of it’s name.

(Photo by Marl Clevenger on Unsplash)