Jul 29

Lessons From Children’s Tales: The Tortoise and the Hare

Cover of The Tortoise & The HareWe all remember the popular children’s fable, The Tortoise and the Hare – a story that teaches us the virtue of setting and maintaining a pace to achieve our goals.  In it, a turtle becomes tired of listening to a nearby rabbit brag about how quick he is and challenges him to a race.  The rabbit sprints away at the start, taunting the turtle for being so slow.  Soon, though, the rabbit becomes tired.  Looking back to see that the turtle is so far behind him, he decides to rest under a tree, falling asleep.  He is later awakened by the cheers of the other woodland creatures as the turtle crosses the finish line, realizing that he’d slept too long and allowed the turtle to pass him.

It’s a simple and classic tale, the moral being, “slow and steady wins the race.” Such basic and wise words, but many times we find ourselves living as the hare rather than the tortoise.  We define goals for ourselves, become excited, pursue them with fervor, and, all too often, quickly become tired and unmotivated, abandoning what we’d started and moving onto the next flash in the pan.  On the other hand, it’s just as easy to become disenchanted with our goals when we slow down.  We’re excited and we want to see results.  When they don’t materialize as soon as we had hoped, it’s easy to think that we just won’t ever get there, and give up trying.

Slow & steady wins the race

Here at Frugally Green, I (and many of you) are on a quest for self-improvement on two fronts, and frugality and sustainability are two really broad targets!  I’ve written before about balancing multiple goals and how important it is to find opportunities to achieve them simultaneously, but how do we stay on track? How do we balance the pursuit of our dreams between speeding away and burning out like the hare and plodding along like the tortoise, afraid we won’t ever get there?  I think we all know deep down the tortoise is, undoubtedly the winner of the race, but the hare has its place, too.  The fundamental task in achieving our goals is breaking them down into many smaller goals and assigning “tortoise” or “hare” characteristics to them.

The role of the Tortoise

In becoming frugal and green, the tortoise represents our overall, long-term goals and the planning that is required to achieve them. We’re all different, so this could be anything from starting an international business or foundation committed to sustainability and becoming a financially independent philanthropist to simply reducing your energy consumption and recycling more than you throw away.  Whatever your ultimate goal is, the tortoise represents the careful and deliberate planning that must take place to realize these achievements.  These are not goals that can be completed tomorrow. You must set a pace for yourself to reach these landmarks by breaking them down into smaller, more easily attainable goals.  It is through this slow and calculated process that you will build the framework that will guide your decisions towards the end goal.

So now you have an outline of how you are going to attain your highest goals.  You may still feel like you haven’t actually done anything yet, but you have! You’ve given yourself a reference guide that will tell you when you’re on the right track and when you aren’t.  It might be pages long or it might just be a few items, but now that you’ve really thought about it, you’ve got a strong focal point. Einstein once cleverly stated, “If I had only 1 hour to save the world, I would spend the first 55 minutes defining the problem.”

The role of the Hare

We know, certainly, that we can’t sustain ourselves trying to sprint our way to a finish line that could be years away, so where does the hare and his hyperactive tendencies come into play for us?  Well, since we took our time when we started off and carefully pieced together an outline that breaks down our goals into bite size pieces, we can now pursue each of them, one by one, with lightning quickness.

Now, don’t get carried away like our rabbit friend did in the story.  What I mean to say is, from our example above, maybe a few of the first steps that you lay out for yourself are to remember to turn off your computer every night, change all your light bulbs to CFLs, and only run your dishwasher when it’s full.  Pick one of these basic tasks, like turning your computer off every night, and throw yourself at it! Spend every day focusing on it until the action is ingrained into your habits.  Don’t worry about the other goals until this happens, then move on to the next.  It won’t take a lot of effort because it’s simple and you know how it will contribute to your long-term success.  Continue on this path until you’ve satisfied all your base goals.  Then, give yourself a pat on the back and move onto the next rung of the ladder. You’ll probably find that your ability to adapt becomes quicker and quicker as you travel down the course you’ve set for yourself.

Putting it all together

The Tortoise and the Hare is a timeless classic that reinforces a lesson that we learn at a young age, but is often forgotten by adults as the demands of life in a modern world bear down upon them.  The tortoise teaches us that a slow, methodical pace is what will efficiently take us long distances.  The hare teaches us that quickness is useful for short durations.

Whether we vocalize them or not, we all have goals.  We all have dreams.  Attaining them depends upon the system of support we create that will ensure success.  State your dreams without fear and pursue them the same. Be it big or small, make it a point to take one step forward every day.


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  1. Zengirl

    A very unique way of looking at it. I like your articles as being green and being frugal at the same time, does not come so easy. Great job.

  2. Bart's Bookshelf

    Hi there. Great review!

    Just dropping by as the host of the Aug 2nd edition of the Book Reviews Blog Carnival, to let you know I’ve added you to the post.

    Thanks for submitting your review. :o)

  3. Dawn

    Yeah, it’s amazing how we can still learn from children’s stories. Just goes to show that these fables are timeless, and that children have more values than the adults.

    Thank you for this post.

  4. Orla Kelly

    This is a fantastic piece of writing. I have tweeted this and copied your link to my blog. I won’t even begin to summarize what you wrote so I will hae my readers read your article for themselves-I really loved it!

  5. Bankruptcy Ben

    The thing that always bothered me about the Tortise and the Hare is what if the Hare wasnt an arrogent lazy guy who rested on his laurels? The Tortise only wins because the Hare stops running. Just saying maybe the Little Engine that Could would be better

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