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The Paradox of Gold and the illusions of success

By Okechukwu Onwuka
Gold is without doubt one of the most popular and well-known metals in the world. It’s value and special properties have remained in the upper threshold of classifications from the earliest of times. Gold in its natural mineral form almost always contains traces of silver, and may also contain traces of copper and iron. A significant portion of the gold is mined from gold ore rather than actual gold specimens.

The gold ore, for example Calaverite, is often brownish, iron-stained rock or white Quartz, and usually contains only minute traces (very small amounts) of gold. Gold ore is also associated with Pyrite and other sulfides,(don’t bother with the real meaning of these except to know they are distractions from the real gold) and sometimes may not be noticed or easily recognized as gold because of the association with these resembling minerals. Basically, three main operations are necessary before a deposit of ore yields pure gold.

First, the ore must be identified through prospecting (search for gold deposits) and removed (through mining) from the ground; Secondly, the ore must thereafter be treated, or dressed, to extract the gold and its alloyed metals (the usual other metals like silver, copper or iron); and lastly, the gold must be refined.

The refining is the defining part of the chain process. Some additives are mixed with the gold ore and then heated in a furnace. The mixtures are ultimately melted under fierce heat where the slag (residue) which contains the impurities floats to the top, while the molten gold’s greater density causes it to sink to the bottom. When the contents are fully melted, the furnace is tilted and the molten material is poured into a mold. Worthless black slag forms on the top and is broken from the underlying gold once it cools.

This process may be repeated several times until pure gold results. But why should anyone go through this complex and rigorous process just to produce gold? Maybe we should take a look at some of the properties and uses of gold. Gold is very dense and heavy, about 20 times the density of water. It can be easily separated from other substances due to the weight differences. Gold is also the most malleable (easy to beat or flatten into new shapes) and ductile (Ability to be stretched or elongated without breaking) substance known.

It can be flattened out to less than .00001 of an inch (less than .000065 cm), and a 1 oz. (28 gram) mass can be stretched out to a distance of over 50 miles (75 kilometers). Gold is also one of the most resistant metals. Gold is beautiful, rare, won’t tarnish, discolor, crumble, or be affected by most solvents (liquids that can dissolve other substances). This adds on to the uniqueness and allure of this mineral as it can withstand a wide range of attack and still remain stable. Gold has been used as a precious metal throughout the history of mankind.

Many exotic gold ornaments from the past have been found. Over the centuries, Gold has been used for coinage and is accepted internationally as a standard value. In recent times, the main use of gold has been for jewelry and ornaments. Due to gold’s distinctive properties as a metal, it also has several industrial uses as it finds multiple uses in photography, dentistry, coloring, and is currently being studied for cancer treatments.

Because pure gold is easily bent and dented, it is always alloyed (joined together) with other metals when used in jewelry (necklace, bangles, chains, rings etc). This makes it more durable and practical for ornamental use. The purity of the gold based on the alloyed metal is however measured in karat weight. The karat measurement determines the percentage of gold to other metals on a scale of 1 to 24, with 24 karats being pure gold.

The paradox of Gold. Why have I gone to such details on the mining and refining process for gold? It is just one more angle to view the processes we all inevitably must go through to become the gold in whatever we chose to do. My choice of the phrase, paradox of gold is a reference to the common illusions of success that many of us have in expecting to see opportunities coated in bright and attractive colours before we recognize, pursue or celebrate them.

Last week, we treated briefly the concept of luck and pointed to how some of us may currently be staring at golden opportunities for breakthrough and yet not recognize the hidden gold. Looking at the gold ore, in it’s natural form, no one would think that anything of value can come from it.

To make it worse, even gold ore contains only very small quantities of pure gold. So the question is, why must gold be disguised in such a way? Why must one go through such rigorous, time consuming and relatively expensive processes to prospect, mine and refine gold? The simple answer is that gold will cease to be gold if it was easy to come by. Furthermore, because it has several great uses, qualities and benefits that many other metals cannot even begin to compete, there’s more than compelling reason and justification to pay the price for discovery and extraction. But looking at gold is full glow and beauty, you’ll never imagine the journey involved nor how ugly it looked in the state it is usually found.

That is the paradox. Interestingly, many good things of life involve a similar form of paradox. The managers and supervisors we hated working for, at earlier times in our career, tend to be those we recognize and appreciate later on when we realize the great value that their discipline and refinement added to our life.

When growing up, we tend to hate the parent (mother, father or guardian) who beat us the more, required compliance to stringent rules and codes of behavior and always demanding that we perform better than others. We tend to love the other parent who would rather pamper us and waive discipline, on the basis of love.

Only when we become matured adults and parents ourselves do we come to appreciate that tough father or mother without whom we would not have been able to compete in the world. For this reason, many women only start to appreciate or appreciate deeper, their mothers after they become mothers themselves. We desire supervisors at work who are not demanding or disciplined.  We want to work in big companies where very little is demanded of us and the rewards are handsome.

We hate it when our clients insist on making us comply with rigorous procedures and steps for execution. We don’t want customers who are discerning and always force us to produce top quality products or services. We hate Government Regulations that force us to spend money on regulatory compliance and standards when the money could have been converted to profits.

Anybody, client, supervisor or manager who demands hard work and commitment from us is seen as wicked, mean or too hard. It is only when we see the outcome of children from homes without discipline and control that we begin to realize the gold hidden in parental control, spoiling the rod and discipline. When you see children who inherit hundreds of millions of naira and waste it all in less than 3 years after the parents pass on, you realize that the gold or opportunity is not in the physical wealth inherited.

The wealth (cash, houses etc) are only appearances of luck, opportunity or gold but never the gold in itself. When people become entrepreneurs, thinking it is an easier way out, they realize that the real gold they have on them is the lessons leant from that mean or wicked boss. Lessons in discipline, hard work, submitting to authority, focus on details, integrity, control, leadership and other golden virtues.  Within the jobs or contracts (small or major) that your company is currently handling lies the gold to your ultimate triumph tomorrow. Gold never looks like gold in its natural state.

Opportunities and luck are the same. They do not often appear like opportunities. They easily come disguised as hardship, struggle, challenge, difficulty and sometimes hidden in tragedies. The ability to recognize them this way may never be common knowledge. Many who pay millions for refined gold will throw away a field of gold deposits because of lack of knowledge.

The few who know will continue to apply the wisdom and sell their finished products or services at the high price that the impatient majority is willing to pay. The majority who only believe when they see! Those who know always pay the upfront price patiently, long before the gold becomes obvious.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.