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Let's die a hero

"You either die a hero. Or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain."
- Harvey Dent (in The Dark Knight)

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you'll know by now that I often quote from The Dark Knight. That's one of the reasons I like the movie so much. The plot, the acting and the direction are all exceptional, no doubt. But it's the dialogues that continue to live with me, surfacing up to my working memory every time I come across something that the dialogue may be related to. Like this dialogue by Harvey Dent did recently.

If you look at why a lot of successful companies fail to keep going strong, why a lot of promising youngsters in football, in academics, in theatre fade out after a few initial successes, why a lot of comedians stop sounding funny, why How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory got boring after the initial seasons, and now, why my beloved Chelsea Football Club is failing so miserably under The Special One, it is quite like what Harvey is saying.

When you hit success early on, the bigger the success, the more cautious it makes you going forward. Because with success comes a social standing, a way of life, and most important of all, expectations. When you hit success early on, you are recognised. People now expect you to go on and do even better. And that builds up a fear of falling from the limelight, making you more cautious in what you do next.

You now have a reference on how to succeed. You know something has worked before and it feels extremely reckless to try an altogether different approach in crossing the next hurdle. You're happy in the delusion that what has worked before has the highest probability of working again. So you stick to a certain set of ideas or principles. 

Too bad, that's not what is needed next. So you either die a hero or live long enough with the same set of ideas and principles that made you the hero to see yourself become the villain, because times change and circumstances change and your ideas and principles are no longer what are needed to cross the next hurdle. Well, most of us may not see ourselves become a villain, but we'll certainly see ourselves fall from grace.

Louis CK became so famous after he started throwing out all his material at the end of the year's biggest show and starting over from scratch. Throwing away what got you here is essential. What you've learned on the way is already imbibed in you, so it's actually quite an effort in throwing away the reference. If it's something tangible like Louis CK's material or your company's biggest revenue earner, it's easier to throw it away and start over. It's work is done. Now it's time to let go of the anchor and start afresh. Makes you a lot more nimble.

Let's die a hero now and then. So that we can have a shot at being a hero again. Rather than living long enough with our anchor to see ourselves become a villain.

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