If you gaze over the myriad of “Best Business & Leadership Books” list you will almost always see Niccolo Machiavelli’s “The Prince” at or near the top. Sure there are many lessons to be learned from this stipend of corporate stupor and dominance; but you’re not after the same old life lessons anyways, right? That’s why I take my lessons from a different “Prince.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince” – a tale many of you read as a child – is one of the best books to learn about life, and more importantly, never losing your sense of child-like curiosity and imagination. Today, too much is made of living a pattern that is “tried & tested” to get you the picket fence, country club membership, leased Mercedes, and a comfortable retirement. The problem is that this “life” pounds the curiosity and imagination out of people. So here are three lessons I learned from “The Little Prince.”
Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
“I know a planet inhabited by a red-faced gentleman. He’s never smelled a flower. He’s never looked at a star. He’s never loved anyone. He’s never done anything except add up numbers. And all day long he says over and over, just like you, ‘I’m a serious man! I’m a serious man!’ And that puffs him up with pride. But he’s not a man at all – he’s a mushroom!”
The Prince is constantly dismayed at how adults keep themselves deliberately busy and ignore the pleasures and beauty of life. Adults are obsessed with counting and adding numbers (accumulating wealth), and as a result, we miss the things that give true value to life. We often look at our actions, and decide that they must have some purpose or be directed to accomplishing some goal. But what the Prince tells us is that sometimes we need to look at the stars – simply just to look at and enjoy them.
The Prince teaches us to slow down, not take ourselves–and others–too seriously, laugh, and enjoy the things that make us happy.
Anything Essential is Invisible to the Eyes
“Here is my secret. It’s quite simple: One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”
The Prince, upon realizing that he missed his little Flower back on his home planet, came across a garden of roses. Excited to see flowers, he is met with disappointment with his lack of fulfillment upon looking at the beautiful roses. Then we are hit with these nuggets of wisdom:
“It’s the time you spent on your rose that makes your rose so important.”
“People where you live grow five thousand roses in one garden, yet they don’t find what they’re looking for. And yet what they are looking for could be found in a single rose.”
When we start to believe that we value “things” we should stop to think about whether or not we value the “thing,” or if it is the time and effort we put into our success that we enjoy. Is it the boat you own, or the satisfaction in knowing that you worked hard to get it that is important? Is it the fat bank account, or the satisfaction you feel for working hard and staying disciplined? And, could you be deriving the same pleasure and satisfaction from doing something more altruistic and noble? Just remember, anything essential is invisible to the eyes.
You Have to Experience the Bad to Appreciate the Good
“I need to put up with two or three caterpillars if I want to get to know the butterflies. Apparently they are very beautiful.”
As the Prince is preparing to leave his planet, he is worried about leaving his Flower exposed to wind and animals. The Flower, who up until this point has been demanding and arrogant, knows that the only way she will grow is to experience hardship.
The same goes for us. In order to truly relish the good times we have to go through challenges. They are, in fact, nothing more than opportunities. In this light, our problems – or even just a down day (we all have them) – can be seen as a test of ourselves.
The next time you are about to pull out some Machiavellian manipulation tactics and go corporate commando on somebody, take a minute to think about the innocent truths and humanities shown by The Little Prince.