08 Apr 2021 Getting Advice From Elves
“But it is said: Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger. The choice is yours: to go or wait.”
“And it is also said,” answered Frodo: “Go not to the Elves for counsel for they will answer both no and yes.”
“Is it indeed?” laughed Gildor. “Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill.”
In Tolkien’s three-volume novel The Lord of the Rings—incidentally, easily a top-three English-language novel for me—the elves present a very interesting tension. On the one hand they possess unrivaled wisdom, and yet on the other a determined unwillingness at times to get their hands dirty in the affairs of the world around them. You can see that in the dialogue above, from early in Frodo’s journey away from the Shire and toward a completely unknown future.
Advice is a strange thing. And it’s because unguarded advice is indeed dangerous that this blog has to be, by definition, quite elvish. If you were to go back and look at the hundreds and hundreds of blog entries on this website, you’d find a whole lot of “for they will answer both no and yes.” Just last week Geoff wrote an entire blog on that very reality! Sometimes the answer to early mortgage payoff is no and sometimes it’s yes, and outside the confines of a particular relationship with particular context and vulnerability on the part of the client, there is no right answer to that question. We don’t write these blogs vaguely as some sort of bait and switch–“ha HA! Now that you’re a paying client we can give you the real good stuff”–it’s just the inherent nature of advice. Advice, generally given, is rarely useful in particular cases. Which is why getting advice from the TV or the internet is inherently dangerous.
All that being said, there are some pieces of advice that can be given generally, and which are still useful. And I have a quick one today. Without getting into the weeds, here is a financial story that’s unraveled over the last few weeks which I cannot distill better than this headline: Bill Hwang Had $20 Billion, Then Lost It All in Two Days. It’s a sad and ridiculous story, but at the center of it is, I think, a generalizable lesson for all of us:
Pride can lead to self-inflicted losses of unimaginable magnitude.
As Morgan Housel says, “Getting rich and staying rich are two very different and often conflicting skills,” and I think pride is at the very center of that reality. If we are not careful, intentional to build boundaries and frameworks and heed wise counsel, then pride will tend to increase proportionally with intelligence, money, status within a community, fame, power, and so forth. And when it does, there’s not a one of us who doesn’t risk ending up a headline like Bill Hwang.
Shortly after the dialogue I quoted at the top of the brief, Gildor the elf does indeed give Frodo the concrete advice to go rather than wait, and it turns out to be life-saving advice. I guess the lesson is, in the end only Frodo could destroy the ring (spoiler alert!), but he had a whole lot of help getting there. And sometimes it’s fun for me to imagine Beacon in a similar role for our clients. Each of them has a mission, and we can’t do it for them, but whether it’s orcs, ringwraiths, or pride, we can help avoid and sometimes vanquish each obstacle to the mission. Let us know if we can be part of your Fellowship! (And I promise the rest of the team isn’t as nerdy as I am…).