I spent my youngest years growing up in a very small village in the Cornish countryside. For a long time we had a local milkman who would deliver glass bottles of milk to our front door each morning. You’ve probably seen the sort – the ones with the coloured foil lids.

Inevitably, lots of the bottles got attacked by the local wildlife. The crows and sparrows would puncture the lids and try and guzzle down the milk, but I was more interested in seeing if the early morning magpies would come out to steal the foil lids.

After all, legend has it the magpie is a bird that just loves shiny things.

Figuratively speaking, we all have our own personal magpies. Sometimes they’re relatively docile. On other occasions they are champing at the bit with an insatiable hunger.

And our magpies aren’t only loitering for the chance to grab some shiny yet low value items like milk bottle tops or Instagram likes.

The modern magpie wants to make impact. It wants to make positive change. It wants to achieve and excel. It wants to build a nest filled with valuable things.

I don’t know about you, but my magpie is ravenous.


A Raven, rather than a ravenous Magpie. by Tyler Quiring on Unsplash

Accordingly to the Myers-Briggs test, my personality type is INFJ.

When it comes to careers, one of the INFJ traits is to dislike choosing one path, mainly because it means making the heartbreaking decision to abandon several other equally fulfilling and intriguing options.

Being naturally curious about different things and how they work exacerbates this.

Living in today’s always-on world, particularly in busy cities, amplifies it even more.

This combination creates particularly fertile ground for the magpie.

The magpie can find nourishment almost everywhere:

  • an article going behind the scenes at an interesting company
  • a new charitable enterprise to get involved in
  • a successful person with whom we can (subconsciously) compare ourselves
  • a request for advice from someone getting started or changing lanes
  • a new trend or idea in an adjacent industry

The magpie desires them all.

And like the fabled Scorpion, it’s not its fault – it is just its nature.

If we indulge the magpie it can harm us.

However, to avoid harm we don’t have to banish the magpie completely.

What we must do is tame it, even if we feel we are passing up golden opportunities by doing so.

Derek Sivers suggests a good heuristic when looking at a decision or opportunity is to respond with either ‘Hell Yes’ or ‘No’. If it’s not ‘Hell Yes’ then the answer should be ‘No’.

The magpie makes us say Yes when we should say No.

But only we know when it’s ‘Hell Yes’. That feeling comes from somewhere else the magpie can’t reach; it doesn’t know us well enough for that. And that is how we tame it.

When making decisions, ask yourself: is this me, or the magpie?

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