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Saturday, January 20, 2018

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Spoons and Oil
Jonathan D. Schick

September, 2007

Some years ago, I read a simple, yet profound parable from Paulo Coelho's celebrated fable "The Alchemist." Loosely, it goes something like this:

A lad wanders through the desert for 40 days to learn about the secret of happiness from a hoary wise man and finally comes upon the man's beautiful castle. After a long wait, the man listens to the boy's explanation of why he came, but tells him he can't reveal the secret of happiness. He suggests that the boy look around the palace and return in two hours.

"Meanwhile, I want to ask you to do something", says the wise man, handing the boy a teaspoon that held two drops of oil. "As you wander around, carry this spoon with you without allowing the oil to spill". The boy begins climbing and descending throughout the palace, keeping his eyes on the spoon. After two hours, he returns.

"Well", asks the wise man, "Did you see the tapestries hanging in my dining hall? Did you see the garden that took ten years to create? The boy, embarrassed, confesses that he observed nothing. His only concern was not to spill the oil.

"Then go back and observe the wonders of my palace", says the wise man. Relieved at the second chance, the boy picks up the spoon and returns to his exploration, this time observing all the beauty and grandeur. Upon returning, he relates in detail everything he's seen.

"But where are the drops of oil I gave you?" asks the man. Looking down at his spoon, the boy sees that all the oil is gone. "There is only one piece of advice I can give you", says the wise man. "The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world and yet never forget the drops of oil on your spoon".

My understanding of this parable has been to always keep focused on your vision and goals, but not in expense of enjoying the ride getting there. Put differently, if you don't derive some enjoyment from the 10-12 hours a day of sweat and tears you put in to get your daily bread, than you will eat, but always remain hungry.

As nonprofit and educational leaders, we inherently work for more noble callings than our bread alone. Yet, the demands of leadership sometimes pull us far too removed from the laughter, passion, and yes, tears, which form the core of our raison detre.

As we return from the blurry summer to fresh beginnings, let's continue to hold steadfast our spoons and oil, but not forget to stop and admire the palaces we are building.

Jonathan D. Schick is the president of The GOAL Project. He is a dynamic leadership consultant and nationally known speaker. Learn more about the Goal Project at
This article was reprinited with permission of Jonathan Schick. (c) 2007, Jonathan D. Schick. All Rights Reserved.


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