Give Away Your Pride


Don’t let prestige get in the way for what you want to accomplish.

My grandfather, Anders Gartnäs, was an inspiring person. He left his home in rural Dalecarlia in northern Sweden in the 1910s to go to university in Gothenburg and start a career as an engineer. It is remarkable because he grew up on a farm in a small village and was expected to take over the farm after his father. There were no books (and the story goes that he was forbidden to read) and no newspapers, no radio and no external sources of influence whatsoever. Imagine a life back then without Internet, TV or mobiles. But his dream was to become an engineer, and off he went. He got his degree in engineering from a prestigious school, Chalmers University of Technology, went on to work for the telecoms company L.M. Ericsson, one of the hottest technology companies of its time, where he invented new products, and later started his own business based on his ideas. He was a true entrepreneur.

Even though he died when I was only a year old and we never got to know each other, he has always been one of my greatest inspirations. My mother often quoted her father and I grew up with his approach to life. In his diaries he wrote a poem in 1917 about his efforts in life and his ‘Will of Steel’, and we sometimes read it at family gatherings. In a direct translation, it goes something like this:

Is your burden heavy to bear
Bending you to the earth
Appears your path dark and gloomy
The way is long and weary
Your goal is still far away
And you are so tired
Try your Will of Steel!
Better hold and obstacles will fold
Forward strive, not stay
Time will not stop
Chase the clouds from your brow
Be brave and hope again!

Besides the ‘Will of Steel’, he left two quotes that I always have with me. The first one simply says: ‘Stick and a bindle.’ It refers to the hobo, a wandering man with no belongings except the ones he is carrying in his small bag, called a bindle, tied to a stick. A hobo was a vagabond worker, going from place to place. My grandfather said that you should not own more than you can carry with your ‘stick and a bindle’. Of course, most of us have more possessions than that, and the advice is not meant literally. It really means that you should not depend on material things, and if you lose everything you have you should be happy anyway – because all you really need fits in a small bag, symbolically. It’s your inner strength. That was the strength he had found when he left home for his adventure. I often think that it would be OK to lose everything, I would still have myself and my inner core. I think about my grandfather and feel confident and strong.

Another quotation of his that stays with me is ‘You should not have so much pride that you can’t give some of it away’. There are several shades of meaning here. You should be proud enough that you can easily lose some of your pride without suffering any ill effects. And all your pride is not really worth anything if you cannot let go of some of it. You should not be too greedy with your pride, give it away. The general expression is ‘Swallow your pride’, but I think that giving it away is more relevant because when you let go of your pride and lose a little bit of face, it is often to another person that you are handing over some of that prestige.

So, I think in business negotiations, when both parties are locked down in a battle of principles, that I should be the first one to give away some of my pride. And if I don’t, it’s not a sign that I’m proud, but that I’m poor. Giving away a little pride does not really make you less proud. Note that there is a difference between corrupting your integrity and willingly losing some prestige. You can be the bigger person without having to sacrifice your core values.

So much in life and business gets stuck because of pride, prestige and people’s fear that they will look stupid. Instead, accept that you sometimes have to do something you find embarrassing. In business it is results that count, and if you have the opportunity to trade some of your personal prestige to create a better outcome for everybody, nobody will look stupid and you will get a big return on that pride you gave away.