The older I get, the more I appreciate what I learned from my elders. There is so much wisdom in the simplest phrases and expressions, much of which can be applied to finding success in business.
One expression that I always found particularly amusing is “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” At first, it sounds silly; what could this possibly be all about? Where did this horse come from? Why would you look a horse in its mouth? Well, this saying has a surprisingly clear, and rather literal, meaning behind it – a meaning that everyone can and should apply to their lives.
As horses age, they develop more teeth. When that happens, their existing teeth then begin to change in shape and alignment. The older the horse, the further the horse’s teeth will project forward; new teeth push out the old. Coincidentally, this is also the origin of another common phrase: “long in the tooth.” A specialist can look at a horse and determine its age by merely examining its mouth.
The expression “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” is advising you to graciously accept a gift without further examination. If you stare into a horse’s mouth and have a good look around, you might find that it is older than expected and realize your ‘gift’ isn’t as good as you wished for. The horse may be tired, and it may not live as long, but at the end of the day, a horse is a horse. You should be grateful to have received the gift. If you look a horse in the mouth, you seem ungrateful for your gift.
This isn’t just applicable because we’re in the holiday season, it is equally important in your professional life as well. When approaching a new business opportunity, you must remember that an opportunity is just that: an opportunity. Whether it is a quick chat with a potential new client or a chance to invest in the next ground-breaking invention, be grateful for every opportunity that comes your way. No opening is too big or too small, because at the end of the day, no matter the magnitude of the opportunity, it is more than you had yesterday. Be grateful for everything that is presented to you and recognize that no one is entitled to a gift. We should have a positive outlook and count our blessings, large and small.
When someone offers you a gift or presents a business opportunity, refrain from judging and evaluating its worth. Instead of picking it apart and loudly explaining why it’s not good enough, accept the present for what it is and say thank you. Otherwise, it shows poor taste. We should never be ungrateful. I often apply this line of thinking to other situations as well. Sometimes, we get in the way of our own success when we “look the gift horse in the mouth” and over-analyze all the reasons why something can’t be done or won’t work.
But wait, there’s more! While it’s certainly exciting, motivating and ego-boosting to receive gifts and new business opportunities, we should be careful not to go all-in too quickly. This means you should be careful not to put all your eggs in one basket – another expression that I am quite fond of that dates back to the 1600s. Quite literally, if something should happen to that basket, you lose everything.
It’s the perfect expression to remind us of the importance of distributing our resources across many channels and not relying on one endeavor. Financial advisement 101 teaches us to diversify our investments. Guidance counselors encourage students to apply to several prospective universities for admission in case they are rejected from their top choice. The very essence of putting together a leadership team is to ensure a company doesn’t put all of its eggs in one basket, like the CEO.
There is always a chance that a new opportunity has the potential to be life-changing. But it would be extremely foolish to risk your life savings and bet on its success. There is always the “what if” that lurks around the corner.
That being said, if you continue to have success by doing certain things, such as meeting a client over coffee to close a deal, or flying a client out to see your office, then by all means stick with what works. But you may also want to experiment with new things as well. You may find something that works even better when you try different things.
So during this season of giving thanks, take a moment to reflect on these simple expressions that still hold such wisdom. And above all, be thankful for every gift and for every opportunity, large or small.