I woke up this morning to yet another snowfall. Yesterday’s rain and melting have iced over and are now covered with a few inches of fluffy stuff. I’m very much over winter as I suspect most of you are.
While I was out shoveling I couldn’t help but notice the silence.
Despite my hatred of snowfall, it really was beautiful and of course brought to mind the Robert Frost poem “Stopping By The Woods On A Snowy Evening.” I suspect you’ve read it – it’s a staple of high school English classes – but maybe you didn’t consider it as a business lesson.
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sounds the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Simple on the surface – it’s a guy in a sleigh taking a break – but full of other meanings. The main one is the meaning of the woods. What the heck are they and why is the narrator conflicted between an attraction toward the woods and the pull of responsibility outside of the woods? The woods are mysterious and seductive and maybe dangerous. If you go into them and get lost, you might die yet he is drawn to them. Why is he procrastinating in his journey?
It’s the last stanza that’s all about those of us in business. The allure of the myriad distractions we face each day – new business opportunities, the next shiny object which lures us away from our core business – are to be acknowledged, but we have promises to keep. We make them to our customers, our partners, our employees and our investors. Yes, I’m aware that many consider this to be the tale of a man considering and rejecting suicide (I did teach English, after all). That’s a lesson for us as well, albeit figuratively. We can’t make irrevocable choices – lie down in the freezing woods. We need to think with a broader perspective and not give in to the moment.
What’s striking in the end is how something so simple on the surface as this poem can be quite complex. Sort of like business, don’t you think?