Bilbo Baggins reminds us that many great things can happen when you take an unexpected journey.
“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.”
– JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit
What would you do if a dozen dwarves showed up at your door unannounced, accompanied by a charismatic wizard and asked you to drop everything and join a quest to steal a treasure from a very nasty dragon?
Well, there’s no such thing as dragons, you might say, so it’s a pointless question.
I’m not so sure. You see, in many ways, this scenario plays out every day, in the form of new opportunities. Not every opportunity knocks like a noisy dwarf either: They might pop-up quietly during conversations, or flash through our minds while doing paperwork, or sit there waiting to be unlocked in conversation with a fellow traveller. Oh yes, they sometimes show up with fireworks, like a smiling, friendly wizard with a lot of answers. But mostly, they come knocking when we least expect them, like hungry guests in the middle of the night.
Why take an unexpected journey?
Most of us don’t like unexpected anything. We prefer planning everything. Since childhood, we’ve set out on totally expected journeys in education, careers, relationships, investments and so on. We pride ourselves on mapping it all out, and placing our mark with certainty. In business, this planning goes to the extreme: No journeys begin unless accompanied by strategic plans, battle plans, resources plans, and so on.
Paradoxically, even modern magic – wireless devices connecting the world in multiple streams of excitement – can isolate us from unexpected adventures. Social media, for example, while seeming to open up the world to us, also corrals us into safe little neighborhoods of electronic security. Since the invention of Facebook, you hardly hear anybody refer to the internet as the “wild” west any more…
That’s where Bilbo Baggins comes in.
We love the story of the Hobbit, because the characters are permitted to do something we hardly permit ourselves any more: Drop everything and take an unexpected, unplanned adventure. When was the last time you went for a drive across the desert without your GPS? Parents recoil at the idea of their kids wandering the mall without instant access by text. Businesses can’t authorize a social media experiment without ten layers of policies and procedures, not to mention multiple legal reviews.
We seem to have forgotten how to simply lock the door and head off on a journey with little more than a walking stick.
Bilbo Baggins encourages us to change that.
When our otherwise home-loving Hobbit listened to that Tookish wanderlust inside him, he started down the path of a great adventure. That spirit of exploration, of somewhat naive and mostly cheerful walking into the unknown led him to important lessons of the world, and of himself. Of course, the Hobbit encountered perils along the way; those things happen when you are exploring. Still, things turned out fine in the end, and our little Hobbit returned safely home, wiser, braver and more capable of winning gold than when he left.
Consider your our inner-Hobbit these days. When was the last time you tried something without knowing exactly what would happen in advance? Could you try something without anticipated results, measurable metrics and a burning need to quantify the return on investment?
Almost a hundred years ago, Tolkien wrote these stories to help children learn about risk, reward and the excitement of life’s many journeys. Today, theaters are packed with as many adults as kids, enthralled with the unexpected journey of one little Hobbit. There’s more to it than just a fun story: Perhaps it’s the reminder that “all that is gold does not glitter” that has recaptured our imagination.
So, what opportunity dwarves are knocking outside your door today? Maybe it’s time you let them in.
You never know where they will lead you.