Chicken Ribs

“Success depends on getting good at saying no without feeling guilty.”
- Jack Canfield

At the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280 A.D), China was split into three kingdoms: Wei country, Xu country & Wu country.

Cao Cao, the King of Wei declared the war to his neighbor. He led the Wei army and invaded the Xu country.

The battles were bloody; they were brutal. Wei army took over lands, rivers, villages at first. But up to certain point, they encountered very strong resistance from the Xu people. Days passed, Wei army cannot advance any further. Cao Cao held his forces for many days, unable to advance but also unwilling to retreat.

Cao Cao was in a state of indecision. At this moment the chief cook brought in chicken broth for Cao Cao, who noticed pieces of ribs in the bowl. The sight gave rise to a thought. As he was musing, Xiahou Dun, the General of Wei, entered his tent to ask what the password would be that night. “Chicken ribs, chicken ribs.” Cao replied unthinkingly. Xiahou Dun passed the information to the officers.

First Secretary Yang Xiu heard the words and instructed the soldiers assigned to him to pack up and prepare for the journal home. This was reported to Xiahou Dun, who is in amazement invited Yang Xiu to his tent and asked why he was preparing to leave. Yang Xiu replied “I knew by the night signal that the kind of Wei would be returning in a few days. You see, chicken ribs have no meat on them, yet one relished them for the flavor. If we advance, we cannot prevail. Retreat will earn us men’s contempt. There is no advantage either way, so a quick return home is the best choice. Tomorrow high Highness will order us home to the capitol; I thought I’d better put my things in order and avoid the last-minute rush.”

He was right. The Wei army returned home the very next day.

Chicken ribs have no meat on them. They don’t taste much, but you feel bad to just throw them away.

Chicken ribs are things, projects or people we keep around, spend time on/with, but to be honest, they are not (or no longer) interesting, exciting or important to us. They are there just because they have been there. We feel guilty to let them go, so we allow them to consume our energy, occupy our resources, and before we know it, they get into the way for us to get things you really want.  

Life is short. There are more important things to do in life than sucking on chicken ribs. It’s time to let them go.

[Coaching Questions]

  • What are your chicken ribs?
  • Who are your chicken ribs?
  • How are you giving away your time?
  • What’s the best use of your time?
  • Where do you plan to spend most of your time in the next 5 years?

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