Business Lessons From The Ugly Ducking

Over the weekend, I found myself getting really irritated as my husband was reading “The Ugly Duckling” to our daughter. I’ve never realized it before, but that popular children’s tale is based on a totally false premise. The only reason the duckling is considered “ugly” is because it is being held to the wrong standard: it’s being judged as a duck when it’s really a swan.

Now this might seem like a forgivable literary contrivance (and I do like the soft revenge element at the end when the creature that was once teased and taunted suddenly becomes valued and vaunted), but when we do the same thing in our lives and businesses, it’s less easy to dismiss.

Standards have impact (just ask the poor swan who was bullied and rejected for being un-duck-like), and sometimes, maybe often-times, we use the wrong ones.

I have lost track of the number of times I’ve judged myself based on an irrelevant or inappropriate metric. I’ve gotten dismayed about my business performance in Year X by comparing it to a far more developed business enjoying the success of Year Y. I’ve gotten despondent about my strength and muscle tone by comparing it to that of elite athletes working full time on their fitness. I’ve looked at any number of things going on in my business and had to fight the urge to compare it to someone else, something else, that is just different. My swan to their duck.

But as we build and grow our businesses and craft lives of our own design, we have to be diligent against irrelevant standards. We have to make sure that any comparisons are appropriate (ducks with ducks, swans with swans, and all that).

And then, perhaps, we have to let it all go anyway and find ways to judge ourselves by our own standards, our own values, and our own metrics for success.

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About Me
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The daughter of Indian immigrants, Rupal is a born-and-bred New Yorker now living near London. Her high-octane career as a CIA officer turned serial entrepreneur has taken her from military briefing rooms in jungles and war zones to corporate boardrooms and international stages.

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