Growing up, I always thought that my home town was the coolest place on earth. Founded in 706 B.C. by Dorian Greek immigrants as the only Spartan colony, Taranto (this is the name of my home town) soon became the capital of Magna Graecia (the Great Greece), the association of Greek colonies in the Southern Part of Italy and a Greek “state” in all respects.
At the apex of its success, Taranto was threatened by the expanding political and military power of Rome. Although founded by Spartans, Taranto, and the Tarentines, did not have the same military savvy of its founders and had to resort to the aid of stronger powers. The first time, as Rome army was approaching the region of Apulia from the North, Taranto leaders called upon King Pyrrhus of Epirus, a territory between Greece and Albania. In his time, Pyrrhus was a “world” renowned military strategist and a fierce warrior. His army was able to defeat Rome in a few battles and to establish a stronghold in Southern Italy. However, he suffered heavy losses and had to deal with the threat of a Carthage invasion of Sicily from the sea. Pyrrhus desire to expand his control was frustrated by his lack of diplomacy and the inability to see that he did not have the resources to fight too many opponents. He decided to leave Italy and return to his land where he focussed on a successful expansion of his kingdom to include Macedonia. A victory that comes at a heavy loss for the victor, and in effect, becomes a loss in itself because of the inability to follow through with the opportunities that victory would have provided, is still called a “Pyrrhic Victory” today.
As usual, history provides us with a learning opportunity, which can be applied to both our personal and professional levels. When I think of Pyrrhus, I admire his determination. Determination is a value that sometime we overlook. More and more, I see that people desire an easy way out and give up too soon, especially when the going gets tough. From a personal perspective, I see this happening much at the family level. Many husbands and wives become overwhelmed with the challenges of marriage and instead of working towards solving problems and building a relationship, they decide not to be determined to be successful in their role as husbands and wives and quit their relationship. This is evident in the continuous rising of divorces and the formation of casual relationships where there is no legal commitment or tie between the parties. The result is a deterioration of society at its very foundation as families become weaker and unable to learn, understand, and master the skills that can only be learned, understood and mastered through working together to overcome difficulties.
It is also evident in professional environments, where companies form and disintegrate quickly not for lack of expertise or quality of products and services provided. Rather, it happens because of the expectation that results have to come quickly and not necessarily with much effort. In many cases, the focus is too loose or wide or both, and the effort is put on short-term goals rather than on a long-term vision.
I was recently approached by a friend of mine who had to make a very difficult decision. She was becoming increasingly confused as to what to do. I asked her if she had a plan and, in fact, a long-term plan for herself. She thought she had one, but when we sat down to review it, I soon found out that what she had was no plan at all. We then discussed her goals and defined her long-term objectives. Once we did that, we went on to list the steps and deadlines to get there. She now has a plan and she does not feel confused anymore. However, the most important part of my conversation with her was that she needed to work hard and be determined to achieve those goals. The temptation to give up at the first sign of difficulty will creep up. That is the moment when one needs to put more effort and “stick to guns”. It will make a difference.
Pyrrhus had to change his focus, but he never gave up on his determination to reach his goals. Once in a while we may have to make corrections to our direction. Change is normal and we should expect it. However, let us not waver on our determination to fulfill our dreams and achieve our good desires: giving up is not an option if we wish to be successful in life.
Hannibal the Great, another general and statesman who challenged Rome and tried to help Taranto in its struggle to keep the Romans away from that city, epitomized the value of determination when he was told by his fellow generals that it would impossible to cross the Alps with elephants. He boldly responded: I will either find a way, or make one (“Aut viam inveniam, aut faciam”).
At times our goals will be like elephants that need to climb mountains. Let us respond to the challenge by finding the way or creating one.