The Lion and the Cage

Amar Pandit , CFA , CFP

Amar Pandit

A respected entrepreneur with 25+ years of Experience, Amar Pandit is the Founder of several companies that are making a Happy difference in the lives of people. He is currently the Founder of Happyness Factory, a world-class online investment & goal-based financial planning platform through which he aims to help every Indian family save and invest wisely. He is very passionate about spreading financial literacy and is the author of 4 bestselling books (+ 2 more to release in 2020), 8 Sketch Books, Board Game and 700 + columns.

Source- DALL.E 2

Have you heard the story of lions who were rescued from a burning forest? If not, you are about to hear this one. This is not just some random story that I wanted to narrate but one that has a deep connection with us, our mindset, and our lives.

These lions were transported in cages from the burning forest to a new place. This new living environment while (different) was perfect in every sense for the lions. There was plenty of food (prey) and water. Besides, it was a beautiful jungle and seemingly safe.

On reaching this place, the cages were opened. Surprisingly, the lions refused to leave. They retreated to a corner in the cage even though the doors were simply wide open. The lions growled angrily when volunteers attempted several times to help the lions walk out of the cage. The lions could have simply walked out of the cage. But they didn’t?

What could have been worse for these lions than being confined into these cages?

Take a few moments to reflect on this.




What were the lions thinking or rather feeling?

Richard Carlson in his book, What About the Big Stuff? wrote “There is only one thing: his fear of the unknown. He would, literally, rather die in the cage than step into the unknown world.

This is a near perfect metaphor. Most of us are like that lion except that our cages are self-created. One of the most dramatic and sad examples is a battered woman returning to her abusive husband or boyfriend. She knows to stay is pure hell but leaving is often perceived as so frightening that familiarity is chosen over the unknown. There are hundreds of less severe yet important applications where fear of the unknown dominates our attitude, mindset and decision making.”

In our industry/profession, I see many of us self-creating this cage.  For example, the founder who knows that he has reached his capacity and cannot simply grow beyond a certain level, refuses to hire professional staff to acquire clients. He feels comfortable in adding team members in his back-office team but simply refuses to add more people like him (more on this in another post as there is an important nuance missed when firms in our industry do this). Another founder refuses to adopt technology and build a differentiated world class business. Finally, there is another firm that has hit a growth barrier (between Rs.1000 Crore to 2000 Crore) yet refuses to acknowledge what it really needs to do. The founders have made some cosmetic changes and implemented some technology. But their process, client experience, value proposition and many important things remain the same. In short nothing changes. For many, success creates the biggest cage. And the best (or worst) part of it, we simply can’t see it especially when we think we have made it or when we think we are successful (or doing well).

Even though we know that we need to change or that we need to embrace the unknown, we simply don’t take decisions or act. It all seems so frightening, simply not risking the worth of change. Sometimes, the pain must be unbearable for people to seek help and to act. When the cage is awful but somehow bearable, the familiar cage is represented as being safe…except that it’s not.

Richard added further, “The key to your freedom is to first acknowledge the cage. How can we get out or become free if we don’t even know (or acknowledge) that we are trapped? Yes, it is familiar, but no, it is not safe.”

It is often at this step most errors are committed. Even though we are in the business where we are supposed to explain risk to investors on a regular basis, we seldom understand how to evaluate it objectively for ourselves.  Therefore, we prefer the safety of the cage even if it guarantees suffering for us and our firms. The risk of staying in this cage (keeping up the status quo), is 100 percent. In our language, staying in this cage, is not only subject to current pain (even if we don’t acknowledge it) but it will also bring more pain in the future. The best part is that there is no offer document to read here.

Perhaps the safest answer may be to go ahead and take the risk…do that collaboration, modernize your firm, implement that new client experience (and delight your clients), build a differentiated value proposition, market your firm uniquely, implement powerful engagement methods, and so on.

It just takes that first step outside of the cage to realize the folly of waiting inside the cage for so long. There is real freedom in stepping out of that comfort zone. But the hardest part is always the first step. But once that step is taken, your world begins to change. It changes in manners you sometimes cannot even imagine (let alone believe). Things that seemed so frightening now seem like an adventure.

Taking that leap of faith on the new collaboration or teaming up (with HF for example) now becomes an opportunity despite your initial thoughts or doubts. You begin to see new possibilities and options that were once invisible.

To cite an example, a MFD in Pune who used to be very happy and thrilled when they received a cheque of Rs.1 Crore from a prospective new client now have changed their approach in the first meeting (because of their new collaboration). The result: The new client invested Rs.7 Crore and started a SIP of several lakhs.

Richard wrote, “The world is a mysterious place. It is tempting to think that whenever something is unknown, it is necessary and wise to avoid it. And while there are times when this may be true, it is also the case that stepping into the unknown may be the absolute best alternative. Being open to this possibility brings wisdom and peace into your life.”

The question I encourage you to ask yourself and reflect on:

Is there a cage you have built for yourself?

If so, it is time to get out of it. When?