Of all the creatures that came to the watering hole, Frog was the only one that did not have a tail. The other animals taunted him over it, making him feel inferior and ugly. So Frog visited the Sun God and asked him for a tail. The Sun God granted Frog his wish, on the condition that Frog watch over the Sun God’s special lagoon. Frog agreed.
Soon, a terrible drought seized the area, and the Sun God’s lagoon was the only watering hole available for many miles. Creatures from all over the land came to Frog’s new home in need of water. But Frog was very full of himself with his new long tail and his powerful position as keeper of the only watering hole. And because he had never forgotten how the other creatures teased him, he turned away every animal from the lagoon without giving them so much as a sip.
After a while, word of Frog’s antics reached the Sun God, who decided to verify this behavior firsthand. He found Frog swishing through the water, gleefully flaunting his tail. As the Sun God approached the water’s edge, he heard Frog shout, “Whoever you are, move along! This water is not for you! This special lagoon is mine to do with as I please because I am the most beautiful of all creatures.”
Angered, the Sun God exiled Frog and cursed him for the rest of his days. Now, every spring Frog is born a tadpole with a long tail. As he grows, the tail shrinks until it disappears -- to remind Frog that the only reward for spiteful and arrogant behavior is the loss of things one truly cherishes in life.
This folktale is all about staying humble, which can be hard to do in a culture that encourages competition and individuality. Ideally, we are expected to succeed and yet stay humble. That is easier said than done for some people.
Thomas J. Watson Jr., former chairman of IBM Corporation and ambassador to Russia, said his father frequently used to say, “Everyone should take a step backwards every once in a while and watch himself walk by.”
Staying humble is an important virtue. Even if you think you excel at something, there is probably someone who is better. Remember that there are many things that you cannot do. Recognize and accept your limitations. And while we all have talents, everyone also has defects.
I remember when I was first starting out in business, after college. I’ve always said, I thought I would start at the top and work my way up. I had chapped lips from kissing the mirror too much. But did I learn quickly about being humble!
When people ask me now to describe myself in one word, that word is grateful. I know that many people helped me along the way, from supportive parents to mentors and friends. Many people helped shape who I have become. I wish I could take all the credit, but experience has taught me that my life would be markedly different without all that valuable support. Seeing what all those folks have contributed reminds me that I could never have managed alone.
Whenever I speak to corporate audiences I say, “Anyone who thinks he or she is indispensable should stick their finger in a bowl of water and notice the hole it leaves when they pull it out.” No one is irreplaceable, no matter what they think.
Truly humble people also understand they need to avoid bragging, no matter what their talents or status. I’m all in favor of a healthy self-esteem, but you don’t need to continuously bring attention to your achievements.
That’s what humorist Will Rogers meant when he said, “Get someone else to blow your horn and the sound will carry twice as far.” I couldn’t agree more.
One of my favorite baseball players was Boston Red Sox Hall-of-Famer Carl Yastrzemski. As he approached hit number 3,000, reporters hounded him with questions. One reporter asked, “Aren’t you afraid of all this attention going to your head?”
Yastrzemski said, “I look at it this way. I’ve been at bat over 10,000 times. That means I’ve failed 7,000 times at the plate. That fact alone will prevent me from getting a swollen head.”
Mackay’s Moral: Humble pie is nourishment for a big ego.