Root, Hog, or Die


Root, Hog, or Die

Your Business

If you want to achieve success in the business world, it’s up to you.  

Hard work and clearly focused effort, along with a strong determination to succeed, is what it takes. Luck helps, of course, but don’t count on it. You can’t just sit on your couch or shuffle paper at your desk and expect someone to shower you with prestige, monetary reward and advancement someday.

Your success is the result of the choices, big and small, that you make along the route you have chosen to travel. You can never stop trying because the effort seems too difficult. As actor Morgan Freeman says, “The best way to guarantee a loss is to quit.” And what often seems to be a setback is actually a chance to move forward. Drew Brees, former NFL quarterback, points out that “anyone can see the adversity in a difficult situation, but it takes a stronger person to see the opportunity.” 

Some years ago I worked with a diverse group of independent petroleum traders in Houston. They traded physical barrels of product by water, pipeline, tankcar and truck, often on an oral basis and sometimes under complex and difficult conditions. 

Availability, price, quality, volume, timing and confidence in the integrity of their clients were basic elements that always had to be considered.  

But what determined each trader’s eventual success or failure was the desire and strength to get out there and search for opportunities. They had to do this every day, every week and every month, no matter what was happening in their private lives, how they felt or how steep the obstacles seemed to be. 

One of those traders had adopted the motto “Root, Hog, or Die.” It appeared on his business card and on a plaque in his office. I hadn’t heard this expression before and thought at the time that it was just a neat way to explain what he did for a living. But it has actually been around for a long time. 

Wikipedia describes the origin of that old saying as coming from “the early colonial practice of turning pigs loose in the woods to fend for themselves.” It also notes that the Vermont Gazette reported in 1829 that “Root, Hog, or Die” signs in Ohio had “an admirable effect in promoting habits of industry.” In 1834, Davy Crocket said it again in Tennessee when he was faced with starvation, and popular songs were often written about it in the mid-1800s. 

The Dictionary of American Regional English also found widespread use across the United States from 1845 to 1989. And in more recent years, Woody Guthrie, June Carter and others have sung about it.  

The message conveyed in each historical quote found in that publication was the importance of self-reliance, fending for one’s self, the necessity to work hard or suffer the consequences, doing that to which there is no alternative and working out one’s own salvation.  

“Root, Hog, or Die” has become a simple and basic way of describing the effort you must make to achieve genuine success in today’s competitive business world.  

You can do it.   

Jack Goodhue, management coach, can be reached at

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