What the mouse army taught me: lessons for life and business
You may find this hard to believe but I was a cripplingly shy child. I am still less alpha than you think but my own version of the shaolin monk routine means I have turned my early weaknesses into assets. It gets harder with age but with age you also learn you won’t win them all and you play to your strengths and hire to your weaknesses, on a personal level, and focus on your purpose, at a business level.
The day it all began
Picture me, six years old, implausibly blonde, seated in a dark theatre loving every minute of a special adaptation of The Wizard of Oz when the mouse king invites kids up on stage to be part of his army. My mum looked at me with hopeless hope. Not a chance I would stand up in front of all these people. I stayed in my seat. But the mouse soldiers got a medal by the end of the show and, man, how I wanted it. So after the show I mustered all my courage and marched up to the woman who single-handedly created an art scene for children in Greece, the poet, actor and all-round angel that is Nana Nicolaou and explained I was too shy to join the mouse army but I really wanted that medal and what can one do to earn it?
So she showed me a flimsy strip of tin foil over cardboard and she said, you don’t want this. Because it will only be a scrap of tinfoil until the day you feel the fear but get up anyway. And that day the medal will mean nothing to the brave, and until that day appreciating opportunities missed, getting up to ask and figuring out what you wanted after all was no small thing for a small girl.
It made sense. It felt ok.
She hugged me. We left. And this should have been the end of it.
Only, it stayed with me.
It’s probably why I mistrust people who describe themselves as leaders and why I want conversations in proof points, not PowerPoint. Not because I am redeeming my six year old self, she is happy as a clam. But because what I learnt that day is all you need to know both to keep growing as a person and to stand up a business:
1. Know your brand permission. Or change it.
If you are scared of joining the mouse army, don’t aim for the tin badge. If you absolutely must have the badge, work on your courage. There is no way around this. I see it time and time again. Businesses with no track record or delivery discipline, people with no self awareness, companies and people driven by a six year old’s wants and not what they are good at. What they wish they were, not what they work to. Naivety or entitlement, it don’t much matter.
Aspirations only work as fuel to your work ethic. Otherwise you are a six year-old not realising the cost of opportunities missed even after they sail away.
So be aware of what you are and what you are seen as and if it’s not enough, change it. The shiny thing at the end only matters to those who are not on the journey yet.
The mouse army taught me that.
2. You can’t skip any stages.
There isn’t only one way to learn or grow up and thank god for that. There isn’t one path to success and there are no guarantees that the first gamble won’t work. But only fools mistake luck for judgment. Whether I had been given the tinfoil medal or not, the path from timid six year old to keynote speaker was long and entailed hard work. Practice. In obvious ways and less obvious ways: the school debating society and team sports. Endless days and months and years on the edge of comfort.
Practice, learning, growth. Non linear, all of it.
You can’t stand up and be confident in your expertise until you have earned the right to do so by doing the work that got you there. You can’t know more than you’ve ever been taught unless you’ve done the hard yards. You can’t launch a product before you build it. So get building. You can’t cut to the chase and, you know what? Neither should you want to.
The process is amazing and only those who participate get to know this.
The mouse army taught me that.
3. Pause to learn what you were taught.
Don’t ask me why I didn’t just forget the incident. I never did.
And 25 years later I walked into an Athens restaurant with my mighty mother after a very different play, a very different person by now, and saw the very same Nana Nicolaou eating with a friend.
I walked over.
What my mum could see was me politely interrupting and then facing away from her. She assumed I spoke for a minute or two, she could imagine I told her the mouse army story. She knows.
When I come back she asks: “What the hell did you tell the poor woman to make her cry like this?”
I told her about that day and the life I have had since.
I told her what her music taught me, her poetry and the plays she brought into my life before I spoke foreign languages that allowed me to access the global treasure trove of thinking tropes. If you were raised in an obscure language, you know what I mean.
I told her about what her not giving me that tinfoil medal taught me.
And I told her about the final lesson, to pause and give thanks for the life changing lessons.
I learned this all by myself. With every person who taught me something with kindness humility and grace. And if I ever get the chance, I will join this army without a second’s hesitation. 25 years later, I told her. Today I would join your army, for all the right reasons. So thank you.
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption as CEO of 11:FS Foundry.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!