The Tortoise And The Hare—Revisited

Find out what this old fable can teach veterinarians today.



What can you learn from the story of the tortoise and the hare?

Remember the classic story of the tortoise and the hare, told by Aesop in ancient Greece around 600 BC, and later by La Fontaine in France?

Moral No. 1

The story by itself has many interpretations, but it seems like the most common one is that "slow and steady wins the race,” or perseverance typically leads to success.

In other words, relative talent + exclusive focus = success.

Focus is how you presumably went through vet school or tech school while your buddies were partying at the bar.

The revised version of our fable relates that the hare, as skilled and "born to run” as he may have been, felt rather humiliated. He had failed because of hubris or overconfidence. So he asked the humble tortoise for a rematch. The tortoise, exhilarated and cocky, took him up on it.

Of course, the hare learned from his mistake, and instead of "sitting under a tree for some time and relaxing before continuing the race,” he ran like he was chased by a starved wolf until he won the contest.

So what’s the moral of this revised fable?

Moral No. 2

Undivided talent + exclusive focus = derriere-kicking abilities.

But wait, there’s more.

The tortoise, ever so slightly peeved, and not one to give up easily, used his prehistoric pea-sized brain and challenged the hare to another race on a new course of his choice. The hare rose to the challenge.

In this version of the ancient fable, the hare started off strong, without stopping for a moment, and left the tortoise in the dust … until the hare reached a river bank.

The poor hare didn’t know how to swim, so he couldn’t move any further. Without a bridge in sight, he did consider enrolling the help of a nearby crocodile, but quickly wised up. As he shed a tear, the fear-struck lagomorph saw the tortoise calmly strolling toward the river, and diving in without any hesitation.

As you can guess, wise reader, the tortoise won the race—again!

Moral No. 3

Relative talent + exclusive focus + working in your domain of expertise = super powers.

But there is yet another twist to our fable. Rather than fierce competitors, the tortoise and the hare became best buddies. So they brainstormed and decided to merge their core competencies and work as a team in future races.

The next challenge took place on the same turf as the last one against a bunch of other animals. Our two unlikely friends devised a strategy. From the start point to the river, the hare carried the reptile. Then the tortoise carried the hare across the river. And then again, the hare carried his furry buddy to victory. Not only that, they beat their own record. Alone, neither one could have finished the race so quickly.

They left their unprepared opponents "terrified... mortified... petrified... stupefied**…”

Moral No. 4

Combined talent + exclusive focus + working as a team in a specialty area = unbeatable, synergistic success.

See, the hare could have decided to learn how to swim, but it would have taken a while. The tortoise could have tried to run faster, but several millennia may not have sufficed. Instead of working on their weaknesses, they combined theirs strengths to reach better and bigger goals.

You may want to ponder on this little fable and think about how it applies to your personal and professional lives.  And you may realize that ancient wisdom still applies today.

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a mobile, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. His website is here. He is the co-author of "Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound."

* Full disclosure: This story is loosely inspired from a tale told by Darren Hardy, the editor of Success Magazine, who himself heard it from someone else.
** Borrowed from the movie "A beautiful mind.”

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