There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.
There was a time not so long ago when a man’s wealth and social stature were directly proportional to his annual output of bull$%#*. (Let’s be clear. I am not making reference to politicians here – they still seem to rely on that particular metric up in DC.) The magnitude of a Midwestern rancher’s bovine headcount was a true measure of success in the swashbuckling days of occidental expansion, and I imagine that many a cattleman told many a tall tale about the volume of methane he was contributing to the regional atmosphere. Conflicts over grazing grounds were rampant, and herds would thin and swell as rustlers corralled their rivals’ stock into their own ranks.
A Real Fire Iron
To mitigate the risks of material losses and establish firm claim to hard-won beef portfolios, the process of branding was adopted. These simple trademarks seared into countless rump roasts across the West gave each rancher a definitive survey of his quadrupedal possessions: he knew exactly the breadth and scope of his bovinity and could accurately assess his position within the larger constellation of his cattle-driving peers. No more appropriating the neighbor’s numbers to plump up your own. The painstaking process of identifying and branding herds ensured that everyone knew exactly where he ranked on the T-bone totem pole.
When did this basic concept of taking stock leave a gaping vacancy in the collective consciousness? How many of us, if asked, could present a comprehensive picture of ourselves that would align itself with verifiable reality? Most of us lay claim to all manner of possessions – material, financial, relational, intellectual – in order to present an image of ourselves as we want to be rather than as we truly are. We manage to conjure up fantastically inflated ideas of our own efficacy, influence, skill sets, and even material possessions – and we end up blinding ourselves to the truth of our current circumstances. We don’t really know the headcount of our herds because we haven’t taken the time to do a critical, brand-in-the-hide survey of our real assets.
Now you’re saying, “Woah, Citizen, don’t you think that’s a bit extreme? I mean, I think I know myself pretty dang well.” OK, auto-analyst, ask yourself these simple questions:
- Have I spoken of my mortgaged home or financed car as though I – rather than Chase or Citi or Fannie Mae – really hold claim to the asset?
- Have I talked up a skill or attribute to a new employer when deep down I know that I’m nowhere near the smooth-talking expert I’d like him to believe I am?
- Am I likely I to drop a high-profile name when meeting new friends or business associates – even though I only met the figurehead for five seconds at a Christmas party and know that she wouldn’t know me from Adam?
If you answered any of these in the affirmative, then that house, that car, that skill, and that connection are all rustled cattle – illegitimate additions to your herd – and guess what? Everyone knows. Everyone knows that, in certain areas, you are
all hat and no cattle.
If you’re honest with yourself, you know that you have done and continue to do a good bit of inflationary, delusional self- aggrandizement. In our culture, it’s as pervasive as MacDonald’s – and just as deadly. Being categorically unaware of your weaknesses, deficiencies, strengths, and attributes makes you the rancher with unmarked bovines – an insecure cowpoke who needs to spin tall tales to prop up his image because he hasn’t had the guts to go through the unnerving process of branding his assets.
How’s your herd?