Chasing Rainbows: Is There Really Ever a Pot of Gold?

Can you really reach the end of a rainbow? At 17 years old in the mid-nineties, I confidently thought so. Bear in mind that the internet was in its infancy then and I didn’t feel like consulting our family’s dust-ridden Encyclopedia Britannica collection to verify.

Perhaps I also missed science class on the day that explained how we are able to see the awesome and beautiful meteorological phenomenon of a rainbow composed of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet (ROYGBIV ) appear over a beautiful expanse after a fresh or hard rain. We are never really too old to enjoy them, are we?

I can still remember going outside on our elevated deck behind our house in Parker, Colorado after a late August rain and clearly seeing the end of a bright rainbow less than a football field away. Our backyard abutted a natural greenbelt with small pine trees, oak bushes and rolling hills.

The rainbow arc ended in a small group of young pine trees at the top of a hill. I could clearly distinguish the different hues on the trees and I envisioned running to that very spot to be bathed in the warm light. Never had a rainbow been so close.

I excitedly grabbed my two younger brothers, Bryant and Ryan, and demanded that they put on their shoes to chase the rainbow down. Just before we set out, I clearly remember my Dad looking at me incredulously after hearing my plan and with raised eyebrows simply said, “you won’t catch it!”

“But, it’s right there;” I exclaimed, pointing excitedly at the clear end of the rainbow. My Dad wished me luck (I recall cynically now) and with only one goal in mind, my two brothers and I ran as hard and has fast as we could towards our goal.

Sheer excitement and adrenalin coursed through me as I bolted towards the top of the hill. As I approached the rainbow however, it mysteriously seemed to move. I could still see the ending but it had now crossed a dirt road and it appeared two football fields away.

Determined, I shouted back at my brothers and off we ran again. My youngest brother, Ryan, quickly fell behind and I slowed my pace just a bit.  I could still see the rainbow in sight, but the closer we got it seemed to keep moving – just out of reach. 

We ran another few minutes to the spot where the rainbow had just seemingly moved to and all three of us were winded. Ryan could no longer keep up at all and elected to begin walking. Bryant and I decided that we needed to run faster because it was eluding us. Neither one of us wanting to show defeat, we both took off at a blazing pace.

 I remember being acutely aware of each breath as if it were yesterday and I willed myself to move faster, feet digging into wet earth, clods of dirt flying behind me. The bottom of my legs were soaked from the field grass that we were running through, but I’ll never forget the euphoria that I felt as a golden light encompassed our entire surroundings with an enormous rainbow in sight. Off I ran, panting harder and harder with each step, absolutely resolute to finally catch it. 

Little did I know at the time that the very formation of rainbows requires three things: sunlight, water droplets and most importantly, distance between the perspective viewer and the actual rainbow.  Each drop of water falling from the sky acts as a tiny prism as sunlight passes through it at just the right angle.  As light is refracted into each water droplet, reflected back and then refracted again towards the perspective of the viewer, meaning us, the result is that we see different colors always in the same pattern:  ROYGBIV.

This is due to the angle of refraction back towards earth (and to the viewer) where Red is the steepest wavelength, thus always being on top of the rainbow arc and then comes Orange and so on and so forth for each subsequent color thereafter. 

In order for us to see a rainbow however, we have to have enough distance perspective between us and the rainbow for us to see it. That is precisely why we cannot stand directly where we perceive it to hit the earth. It will in fact always move, so long as the proper light conditions exist together with water or rain droplets.

So why talk about rainbows?  I often reflect on this experience in business settings – more often than I would care to admit.   Have you ever had a situation in which someone, typically in sales, approaches you confidently states: “This deal is a slam dunk!”  Curious you might as why so; only to find out how “easy” the deal is after you conquer two or three impossible obstacles.

Why are we so prone to believe it?  Do we all, regardless of age and experience, look across the opportunity horizon to see a beautiful spectacle before us and chase after it like we would a rainbow?

I believe in many instances that we do. I’m not promoting that all great opportunities worthy of pursuit are rainbows. I would have hung up my selling career a long time ago if that were the case. I have however, developed a sense of when a seemingly “too-good-to-be-true” opportunity may in fact be a rainbow: something beautiful to look at under the right conditions that will keep eluding you the closer you try to catch it.  

Here is what I have found:

1.     If a larger than life business opportunity suddenly appears out of nowhere, ask yourself openly and honestly what it would take to obtain the deal? How many steps are actually involved? If it seems complicated with multiple dependent variables, it may be a rainbow. You need to find out quickly before proceeding further.

2.     These opportunities usually appear without any prior preparation and almost undoubtedly are given to you by a third party.

3.     If you find yourself having to convince everyone in the room that the opportunity would change the market and the only person agreeing with you is the organization that would receive compensation of some type – it is really starting to look like a rainbow.

4.     If in fact the opportunity is reliant are more than two organizations outside of your own to fully cooperate with one another for the deal to occur and any of the three prior statements apply, rest assured, you are now fully chasing a rainbow.

People have often asked me, especially as I have been in sales leadership roles, why I don’t get excited about seemingly great deals? Why can’t I see the opportunity that is ours to have if I can only get so-and-so to cooperate with another so-and-so to perform such-and such under an impending deadline? If that sentence seemed confusing, it’s on purpose because chasing rainbows is often the same.

You see, going back to that beautiful day when I was 17, I must have run for a total of 5 or 6 miles chasing that elusive rainbow and coming back back home. I could clearly see it. It was always just over the horizon and I had the strength, stamina and confidence to achieve my objective. No matter what I did though, it could moving further and further way until it disappeared entirely.

The rainbow lasted for about 25 minutes and I ran the entire time before turning around and running a defeated pace home. Despite my confidence, I lacked understanding that I now have.  I arrived home just as the sun was setting nearly an hour after I had originally set out. I was soaked, scratched and exhausted. My two brothers had turned back long before I did and I had personally discovered, how foolish it was to have chased after it in the first place.

So the moral of the story is this: As in life, rainbows are a beautiful natural spectacle to behold and we must enjoy the opportunity when they appear. They are to be looked at, not to be chased.

Next time a larger than life business opportunity suddenly appears out of the sky – ask yourself; “Am I chasing a rainbow?”  If you are, my experience is that you end up running after it only to come empty handed and exhausted. My suggestion – enjoy it from a distance and make sure to bring binoculars…