Why Selfishness Can Sometimes Be The Best Decision

co-founder Easier accounting & Real Business Owners. Over 20 years of experience building and operating multiple businesses. Author & Public Speaker.

In 1985, two climbers in their 20s – Simon Yates and Joe Simpson – became the first people to scale the 21,000-foot west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. It was supposed to be a celebratory, historic event for these talented climbers, but it quickly turned into a nightmare. With supplies running low and a storm brewing, Joe fell while descending the mountain, crushing his right leg.

Simon tried his best to bring them back to the safety of their base camp. It got worse when Joe started sliding down the mountain, trying unsuccessfully to stop himself with an ice ax before going over the cliff’s edge. This left him dangling while Simon held on to the rope to keep Joe alive when the storm came.

After an hour, Simon lost his footing and began to slide, realizing he had a knife on him. He had a choice to make – fall over the cliff with Joe or cut the rope to drop his friend and save himself. Simon finally made the decision to cut the rope and end his injured friend’s life.

Simon recovered for a few days after a mile hike to base camp. To his amazement, Joe had survived the fall and crawled back to camp three days later. Simon had to face his friend whose life he sacrificed to save his own. But Joe understood that his friend had to do something to save himself.

Cut the rope to save yourself

This true story of cutting the rope to save yourself is representative of a larger lesson, especially as an entrepreneur when it comes to personal relationships or business partnerships. Sometimes you have to cut the rope with a situation or person holding you back. It’s hard because it’s a selfish act. You care about the people affected, but it is necessary to move forward and grow.

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Speaking from personal experience, we had a top earning salesman a few years ago. He had a history of substance abuse and some mornings we would even find him asleep at his desk with a client on the other end of the line. As an employer, such a decision is difficult to make because you can justify keeping the seller for your own benefit, but also because they have had high sales.

Ultimately, we had to make a decision to let him go. Not only was this for our own benefit as business owners, but looking back I realize that cutting the rope in that situation was what stopped him from continuing to abuse drugs while on that job. We gave him the paycheck which he used to promote his habits. Terminating his employment forced him to get clean and save his own sanity. As much as letting him go was the best decision for us, it was also the best decision for him.

Sometimes you are at the end of the road

This rope-cutting metaphor doesn’t always mean someone’s pulling you down. It is possible that you are at the end of the rope pulling someone else down. This story about the two climbers forced me to reflect on what I’ve based my own life on. When we record podcasts for Real business owners or invite guest speakers, for example, my business partner does most of the speaking. In my complacency, I had stopped appearing willing to do my part to talk. It made me realize that I wasn’t showing up quite as I needed to. I had made myself comfortable leaning on someone else.

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This got me thinking: What if one of my business partners cut the rope if I didn’t do my part or hold them back? It would be uncomfortable, but it would force me to grow. It made me think about what actions I can take now to stop leaning so heavily on someone else. Becoming aware of this allows me to step up my game without anyone having to cut the rope.

When you realize you’re holding someone else back, there are steps you can take to improve the relationship before the rope has to be cut. It’s an uncomfortable conversation with yourself, but it’s critical for you to succeed as an entrepreneur.

In 2023, make it a challenge to ask yourself, “What am I clinging to that’s pulling me over a ledge?” What are the things that allow you to hold you back from pursuing your own growth? It can be co-workers, a business partner, or even unhealthy relationships with family and friends that are holding you back. You must be selfish and not let external circumstances prevent you from living the life you want to live.

Cut the rope to save yourself and the decision will likely help the other person as well and allow both of you to grow. Looking back at mountaineering history, if Simon had not made the decision to cut the rope, both men would have died. Measures of self-preservation eventually resulted in both returning home safely. The decision to cut the rope is never easy, but the decision to persevere is holding you back from growth.

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