Escape the Monkey Trap

Loyalty…I’m all for loyalty, but there comes a time when you realize that “if you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten” or that you may even get less than you’ve always gotten. There may come a time when you realize that you’ve done all that you can and the situation you are in is still not redeemable. It’s not going to get better just because you give it more effort and more of your precious time. It’s time to change the situation by exiting and choosing a better one. Loyalty does not have to be a suicide pact. If the promise is gone, consider finding a vehicle with more promise.

Are you familiar with the Monkey Trap story? As the story goes hunters in Africa wanting to trap a monkey would drill a hole smaller than a monkey’s fist on one side of a hollowed out coconut shell and attach a knotted cord through a smaller hole on the other side of the coconut. They would put a handful of peanuts inside. A monkey who wanted the peanuts would put his hand in the hole and grab the peanuts. With his hand holding the peanuts he was making a fist that was too big to get through the hole he had reached into. Then the hunter, hidden in the bush, would start to reel in the cord, the coconut and the monkey. Even though the monkey could see the danger of holding on to the peanuts, his fear of loss and his greed for the peanuts was too strong to allow him to let go in time to escape the net that would be thrown over him. The moral of the story is that sometimes you must let go of the peanuts to save your life.

Many people are in a “monkey trap job” or a “monkey trap relationship”. They have something by the hand that is not very satisfactory, a handful of peanuts, and they can see the destruction coming, but they can’t let go. Perhaps they think if they hold on a little longer they can change things, even though the whole time the cord has been reeling in and they haven’t been able to effect that change. We’ve been taught not to give up, but we’ve also been taught to “cut your losses” and “know when to hold ’em; know when to fold ’em.”

Sometimes it’s just time to change. People will continue to whip, spur and ride the dead horse long after it’s fallen over and given out. They’ll pull on the reins and try to get it to stand up again. Sometimes, its better to accept the fact that the horse is dead and find a new mount. The dead horse could be an industry that has died, a company that has died, a marital relationship that has died, or some other past commitment that no longer bears fruit. It may be time to move on.

It takes faith, courage, patience, and commitment to change horses and/or to let go of the peanuts.

A few years ago I owned a small company that I’d built from $30,000 in annual sales to $1.5 Million in annual sales. I had paid a huge price for the company to begin with (hundreds of thousands of dollars). It took some work, some years, and some risk to get the company to over $1 million in sales, and I didn’t want to let go of it. I had a pipeline of $5 million in probable sales in the hopper. Then the market the company was operating in collapsed. My customers wanted to shift 100% of the risk to me. Instead of selling the company for millions as I’d hoped, I ended up winding it down, losing $100k and closing the doors. It was disappointing, but the horse was dead, the coconut was being reeled in and it was clear that the promise was gone. I exited the business and found a better horse to ride. The fact is, I stayed a year too long with my hand firmly grasping the peanuts.

If your industry, marriage, company or other situation has changed and become untenable or unprofitable, it may be time to seriously consider a change. Have you read the short book “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spenser Johnson, M.D.? See: (http://www.amazon.com/Who-Moved-My-Cheese-Amazing/dp/0399144463/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1343856946&sr=8-1&keywords=who-moved-my-cheese). It’s a book about some mice living in a maze with a pile of cheese that is going stale. It eventually disappears. It’s instructive to see how each of the mice respond to the situation. Read the book to find out the different approaches they take.

I am not a proponent of divorce, but there may come a point where your companion’s betrayal or total lack of commitment makes it untenable to remain. All of us who are living in committed relationships should be willing to work through the maturing process with our mates. However, in extreme circumstances we may have to let go. For the most part, though, our commitment to family exceeds our need for change. Sacrifice is also essential for our personal growth. Marriage often requires sacrifice, forgiveness, patience and long suffering. Most marriages are worth the price that is paid in commitment and sacrifice. This is a case where we don’t casually change horses. See this short video for an attitude that I espouse about marriage:

Years ago I hired a salesman. I asked him in the interview, “Why do you want to work for us?” He answered, “Because every so often I change waves.” I asked him to elaborate. He further explained, “I ride technology and change waves. When I see a game changing, disruptive technology come along in an industry I try to attach myself to that wave of change so I can ride it up. When the market is saturated with the new technology I look for the next wave. It’s worked for me for years.” The theme we took for our next National Sales Meeting was: “Catch the Wave.”

People hang onto old habits, old ideas, old commitments, old jobs, old technology, and other things that are not working any more. True principals never out date, but there are things that must be abandoned if we are to grow or achieve our full potential for happiness. In the bible the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 13:11), “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Perhaps his point was that we have to grow up, mature, and change in order to become complete and/or to reach our full potential. Perhaps he was suggesting that we may have to repent and throw off old, sinful or foolish ways in order to fulfill the full measure of our creation and become blameless, at peace, and full of joy.

We try many things in life. We need to hold onto that which is good, that which helps us progress. There are things we need to let go of. Sometimes letting go requires thoughtful consideration, tough decisions, courage, patience, and commitment. Once you have decided, let go of the peanuts and set yourself free. Then, find a new horse to ride, a new vehicle to help you maximize what you achieve and who you become. You may not have to settle for what you have been settling for, a handful of peanuts.


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