J.R.R. Tolkien used Bilbo Baggins to deliver some deep intellectual truth. In the now aptly described masterpieces penned by Master Tolkien wisdom of the ages is passed down in unassuming dialogue between characters. One of my favorites: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
It’s my pleasure to talk with business owners/manager/entrepreneurs on a regular basis. The details of their stories are all different, but they all start the same, “One day I had an idea/urge/feeling that I just couldn’t shake…” Business entrepreneurs are current day Hobbits, in the best possible way of course. They love the comfort, but there is something in them that nags to figure out what the larger world has to offer. So they step out the door but try as hard as they might they will loose their feet and be swept off on a mighty adventure. At least that is what each one has told me in so many different ways.
But then the harder conversation comes up. The one where they are looking for help, rest, support. Not to be outdone by life, J.R.R. also addressed this feeling:
“I FEEL THIN, SORT OF STRETCHED, LIKE BUTTER SCRAPED OVER TOO MUCH BREAD.”
Okay, maybe that is my favorite quote from Mr. Tolkien. Because I think we can all relate to feeling stretched and tired and spread out. Well at least those of us that are doing today what we never would have thought possible yesterday (or yesteryear). What we are attempting to do can be both scary and exciting, just like holding a ring that seems to call to you.
There is another part to that quote that stands out to me as well. And it was called to my attention by Seth Godin a while back. Is it a matter of too much bread or not enough butter that makes us feel stretched and thin? Maybe we can metaphorically reason that the butter is the assets needed to operate the business/operation and that the bread is the work to be done/tasks to earn income. In this analogy you can’t actually just cut off the bread that isn’t buttered, you’re obligated to cover it. You can’t just scoop more butter out because, well the financial crisis taught us that if we didn’t churn our own butter we shouldn’t be taking butter from other people.
So there it is, the Catch-22, the impossible dilemma. Unless we consider the only controllable variable: the way in which we spread the butter on the bread. Sometimes as leaders in business we can get overwhelmed by the insurmountable odds facing us daily, or if not insurmountable than just difficult and tiring. Maybe, like the Hobbit heroes, we stepped out the door and lost our footing and now feel like we are swept down this adventure with little control. We consider the butter and we consider the bread, but we stop thinking critically about the way in which we operate the spreading.
Let me challenge you to identify the butter, bread, and method of spreading in your own life both professionally and personally. Is there a better way for you to cover the bread you’re responsible for with the butter you’ve earned? Maybe you don’t go left to right, maybe its top to bottom or middle outward. Maybe you start with a broad stroke of the knife and then use your fingers to even the spread so it gets to each edge.
Therefore I ask you: Do you have too much bread? Not enough butter? Or do you need to learn a better way to spread the butter around?