Rethinking Idioms #2: A Bird at Hand

In my last post on ‘Rethinking Idioms’, I analysed the idiom: ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’. Today, I will be focusing on the idiom:

A bird at hand is worth ten in the bush.

This idiom is based on the premise that it is better to keep what you have than risk losing it by trying to gain something better. I wholeheartedly disagree with this premise. Such thinking stops you from taking risks, and encourages complacency and stagnancy. The truth is that life is all about taking risks. You simply cannot make significant progress until you move out of your comfort zone.

No doubt, you won’t always win. You might take a risk and really lose that bird at hand. But you will learn from your mistake, try again (probably multiple times) and eventually get those ten birds in the bush.

In the short term, you might be worse off than the person who kept their bird at hand. But in the long term, you will definitely be better off with your ten birds, compared to the other person who still has their one bird (which is probably old and frail now). It is all about delayed gratification.

Maybe you even get two or three birds, instead of ten. But this is still better than having one bird. This reminds me of one of my favourite quotes:

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

Norman Vincent Peale

Let’s ignore the scientific inaccuracy in this quote. The message that Peale is trying to communicate is still very powerful. If you set out to get ten birds instead of keeping just one, the chances are that even if you don’t reach that goal, you’ll make some progress and be better off than when you started.

I am not saying that you should take unnecessary risks. Rather, I am advocating for smart risks: those that take into account the mistakes of yourself and others and improve on them; those that build on others’ previous successes. When you do this consistently, you will make progress.

So I challenge you today: take (smart) risks, and go get your ten birds in the bush!

More in this series:


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6 thoughts on “Rethinking Idioms #2: A Bird at Hand

  1. At Harvard University, the “shoot for the moon,“ is called making a big ask. It’s taught as a very important principle in negotiation. Of course, risks are necessary and they should be calculated well. However most of us never get what we want because we never ask for it. Great post. 🧚🏽💐❤️🌺

    Liked by 1 person

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