In Greek mythology, Tantalus, a king, was invited to a feast at the house of the gods. He stole divine nectar and ambrosia, the drink and food of immortality. He offended Zeus, the ruler, protector and father of all gods and humans. The offence was punishable by death, so they cast Tantalus into Hades where he stood in a pool under a fruit tree with low branches. Whenever he reached for the fruit, the branches raised his intended meal from his grasp. Whenever he bent down to get a drink, the water receded before he could get any. That is called the Tantalus curse, reaching for something that is out of your grasp.

You’ve felt it before, that feeling of being so close to something you want, but just out of reach. We often refer to this experience to as “tantalizing,” which comes from Greek mythology, that of Tantalus. Tantalus always wanted something that was right outside his grasp; if he reached for it, it would move further away. But even with this knowing, he never stopped reaching for more.

The Tantalus Curse is a persistent issue that plagues modern work, but there are plenty of ways to get around it. Identify the problem and the role you play in it. The most important step in fixing any issue is identifying where and how it manifests. Keeping an eye out for this kind of behaviour will help you recognize when you’re doing it. Some of the behaviour traits that are common warning signs are:

  • Using jargon and buzzwords to sound smart or credible, even though they obscure what you mean.
  • Skirting around the core issues of your work by talking about information you think supports your point—even if that adds nothing meaningful to the conversation.
  • Saying things just because they are more impressive than other options. Talking big all the time.
  • Starting every sentence with phrases like “they have proven that” or “Research shows” instead of sharing actual information or relevant references.
  • Relying on numbers and statistics since you assume they establish credibility, but not providing any context or additional insight into them.

Willpower is a limited resource. It’s not a trait, but a skill which can be developed with effort and trained like a muscle. There are things you can do to improve how our willpower functions and how it depletes over the course of the day. This means that it does not doom you to fail in your attempts at self-control, nor are you stuck with whatever level of self-control you were born with. However, willpower is still very limited, and in ways you might not have considered yet. Though it is possible to grow your capacity for self-control, it will always be finite and you can still run out.

As you are gravitating toward a new goal, take the time to ask yourself whether it is what you want and if you are ready for a change. Analyses whether the new goal is a good fit for you in terms of your personality and interests, whether you have the resources as money and time to pursue this new goal. If you are positive, you can move forward with confidence, but if not, take time to evaluate your desires for change and seek other alternatives.

Companies need to know that they may have Tantalus curse employees. To help companies identify the problem and avoid having a leadership team filled with Tantalus Curse candidates, five key management behaviour’s that hinder success in an organization are outlined below:

  • Being unclear about expectations for what is being accomplished.
  • Minimizing accountability for business outcomes through blame or excuses.
  • Lack of recognition or appreciation for good work.
  • Being demanding without help or support.
  • Managers not being open to suggestions on how to improve.