#22 – Croatian Proverb: If You Deliberate for Too Long, You Will End Up with Leftovers.
Reflections on the challenge with substituting thinking for action.
Proverbs on Blast is a newsletter of reflection on PROVERBS and the gems they offer for personal and professional growth. Posts are written by a learner on a quest for more wisdom (me). Please keep reading. Comment at the end. Share this post. Subscribe for more.
It’s the last day of the second month of the year. I wanted to remind you because it’s great to count the days, just to be sure that you’re experiencing each one in ways that count. Also, because almost in a flash, we’re on page 59 of the 365-paged blank book we got at the start of the year. Make some time to assess how you’ve spent your 59 days. Be objective about the successes, challenges, and failures you have experienced in them. Be honest about underperformance of any kind and why. Review your plans and strategy for the year. Preview the coming month. Shareholders of companies are expecting great end of first quarter report of good returns on their investment. As the major shareholder of your life, what, given your skills, opportunities, and resources, should you direct your efforts to in the next month to close out the first quarter of the year? Think about these things.
Thinking along those lines made me light up when I found this Croatian proverb “If you deliberate for too long, you will end up with leftovers.” This is one of the straightforward proverbs that are out there. Its meaning is apparent so you don’t need to do much digging to get its message. However, the proverb is no less profound and requires you to linger in its first part “if you deliberate for too long” to prevent or explain your experiencing its second part. That’s why it made it to the reflection list.
Unpacking the Word “Deliberate”
The word “deliberate” is both a noun and an adjective. I looked up dictionary definitions to uncover as much as possible about it and Merriam-Webster gave the broad strokes of what the Croatians likely wanted readers to walk away with.
As a verb, to deliberate is “to think about or discuss issues and decisions carefully and often with formal discussion before reaching a decision.” Juries deliberate before reaching a verdict. Surgeons deliberate before operating a patient. You deliberate lease agreements, insurance policies, employment contracts, phone contracts, consent for treatment, and whatever else requires commitment of your time, money, or other resources before you give your consent. You’re not likely to jump into signing away your rights without careful consideration and/or even seeking professional counsel. There would be an uproar if a jury refused to retreat to deliberate on information from a trial before announcing a verdict. Deliberation is great. We all do it. We all understand how important it is even if we choose different things to deliberate.
As an adjective, Merriam-Webster expands on its description of “deliberate” as a verb by going deeper into the realm of action, not just thoughts. It offers three definitions, which are all relevant to this reflection:
“to engage in long and careful consideration” or
“to think about or discuss issues and decisions carefully” or
“slow, unhurried, and steady as though allowing time for decision on each individual action involved.”
Hence, whether it is about what to do or how to do it, the dictionary suggests that it is good to be deliberate about both deciding and doing.
In addition, I couldn’t help but scout for proverbs that might shed more light on the word “deliberate.” I found a universal acceptance that everyone’s default mode of decision-making and actions should include deliberation. A Norwegian proverb states that “afterthought is good, but forethought is better.” There is a Dutch proverb that says "Think before acting; and whilst acting, still think." A traditional proverb also chimed in with the caution: “Think late, suffer soon.”
Thus, both dictionaries and proverbs are in alignment with what we know—it is good to deliberate.
Trapped in “Deliberate” Mode?
Interestingly, the Croatian proverb “If you deliberate for too long, you will end up with leftovers.” is also in alignment with the proverbial insights and dictionary meanings. This particular proverb does not have a problem with deliberating. Instead, it highlights one of the risks of lingering on a safe measure that could turn costly by your delay. Its challenge is with deliberating “for too long” not with deliberating at all.
It suggests scenarios where you could miss out on important gains at Point B because you lingered at Point A. Several examples come to mind.
You have discovered a need that you can meet. If you act fast on your idea, you can gain first-mover advantage to establish yourself before copy cats crowd into the newly carved out space. But you have been at the edge of Point A with getting the perfect prototype, the appropriate office space or website, or getting the idea to the best possible state for months or even years.
Likely, lingering at the edge of Point A has you trapped in what a Korean proverb describes as “Put something off for one day, and ten days will pass.” Possibly, your vision is now clouded by fear. It is like that you have settled into the complacency of routines and stylishly rationalized that your ideas are not that novel after all. That it’s not needed anyway. Worse, have you sold your idea short to yourself that it’s not ready for unveiling yet? Even if that was true, are you acting on getting that idea ready for unveiling or are you still deliberating on it?
Should you be getting ready to put a down payment on a house but you’re still deliberating on how the economy is not stable and thus not a good time?
Should you sign up to write that certification exam but you’re still deliberating on the implication of how long ago you graduated from college and are now too old?
Should you be writing pages of your book every day but you’re still deliberating on other authors’ sales numbers and how they’re more popular?
Should you be perfecting your experiment but you’re still deliberating on who is the most educated person to attempt what is clear to you but they can’t even see?
Should you be filling out forms to register your company but you’re still deliberating on which company’s case study is the most interesting or terrifying read?
Should you be applying to graduate schools but you’re still deliberating on the rejection numbers of the universities that offer your program of interest and how you may not qualify?
Should you be scheduling an appointment to your doctor now but you’re still deliberating on whether that persistent nagging pain will go away on its own?
The problem is not with deliberating but in still deliberating long after you should have moved on to real action. Why give thinking a bad reputation?
By all means, seek counsel on a new idea or step you must take. Read a reasonable number of relevant books. Talk to the humans that can help you—mentors, friends, parents, instructors, neighbors, there’s no limit. But more importantly, set a timeline for action and do not linger at the stage of amassing information. A full meal awaits on the other side of deliberation. Do all in your power to move in the direction of the table where you’ll get to enjoy that full meal by acting on your idea. Press forward, however gingerly the steps you’ll start with. Ask friends to help you. Find family members that will support you. There are even strangers on social media that seek out opportunities to pay forward benefits they have received in the past that will be willing to guide you. Really, the ball is in your court. It is good to deliberate, but “if you deliberate for too long, you will end up with leftovers.”
Someone told me this week that the weather is not favorable to launch his idea. He meant it in the figurative sense. Whether literally or figuratively, what does it matter what the skies release or have in store? Rain, sunshine, snow, or sleet, there is always a full meal that awaits those who act rather than wait indefinitely for what they hope will be favorable weather. And however much it rains on you, no wild banana tree will grow on your head. What’s your excuse?
Also, how much should it matter what obstacles are in your path by nature, design, or outright mischief? An Egyptian Proverb reminds that “a beautiful thing is never perfect.” Rather than linger in deliberation over what stands in your way, a North Africa proverb reminds that “activity is the spring of life” and a Greek proverb challenges you to start acting on your ideas because “the beginning is the half of every action.” Whatever it is that you’ve been thinking about doing, press forward boldly remembering the caution of this Burundi proverb that “The fetus that fears criticism will never be born.”
Thinking about the staircase may feel daunting, but determine to take the first step to actualize your idea and keep going from there.
I don’t want you to walk away from this post still deliberating. I want this reflection to get you moving, not keep you thinking. The Japanese proverb “If you think about things too long, good thoughts will disappear.” echoes the Croatian proverb’s caution against lingering in the thinking, fact-finding, or planning stage. So, 3 questions for you:
What do you do well and could be doing more of but you haven’t finished your fact-finding on how best to do?
What project do you need to launch and have all the facts on how to start (which is usually all you need to get moving) but are still thinking about when to start, where, or even what to wear to start? (I heard this last reason this week)
What is a realistic timeline that you can break your planning and activities down into?
Place a cap on your deliberation phase. Pick a date when you will stop thinking, wrap up fact-finding, and close every book you’ve been reading to take the first step on acting on all that information. That way, you’ll be able to continue thinking about what you’re doing rather than what you hope to do someday, sometime somewhere.
It’s the last day of the second month of the year and I feel impelled to remind you of that. May the new month become a time of acting on your dreams. May the rest of the year be filled with activities that will make you feel that your days count rather than you counting the days. Every morning, keep in mind the caution of the Croatian proverb “if you deliberate for too long, you’ll end up with leftovers.” Whatever it is that you need to do, think, but also start acting quickly.
Prayers and warm wishes to you, in commitment to your growth and success. Feel free to reach out if you need accountability to start or keep moving.
What do you think keeps you deliberating for too long? Have you experienced settling for leftovers because you lingered at thinking when you could have moved to acting?
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