Gutting the Golden Goose: Lessons from the Backend of Burn-Out
In case you're not familiar, the story goes like this:
- There was a farmer, had a goose.
- One day the goose laid an egg of pure gold.
- He sold it for many monies.
- The same lay the next day, and many more monies.
- The farmer became impatient and tried to inspire more frequent layings.
- He was not successful.
- So, he reasonably figured, he'd gutt the goose and get all the eggs at once.
- He was not successful.
- The goose was dead...
- ...and no more eggs.
Patience, and the necessity of nurturing that which winneth bread.
I'm sure this being as old an allegory as it is, I cannot give sole credit to Stephen Covey. However, I must tap him as the source of this lesson's weight for me. I can't tell you the first time I heard the story, but I can say I was blind to the message until only recently. And its weight was a direct result of my cyclical and painful experience behaving exactly like the farmer. I'm a professional goose-gutter, and I have suffered much.
Let me explain the lesson a bit clearer with some personal examples:
Covey likes to use the terminology "P" and "PC", for "production" and "production capacity". As a freelancer working in a field that excites me, doing things I find fun, I find it incredibly easy to overwork myself. I will get wrapped up in a project and literally time-travel. On one hand I am bow-down-groveling-grateful to be blessing with such interest for my craft, but on the other I'm pimp-powder-slapped by the un-sustainability of this kind of work habit.
I would love nothing more than to work and work and work, but my body gives and my brain fries at a certain point...and beginning again after I have pushed into this realm is a nearly impossible task. During these marathon-sprints I frequently forget to eat, I do not exercise, I don't socialize and I get very little sleep. From the outside looking in it is quite obvious I'm headed for burn-out, but strangely I myself cannot see the edge of the cliff, and I'm free-falling before I know what happened.
I don't perform the oil change and the engine blows.
So, back to the moral:
I used the oxymoronic term "marathon-sprint" quite purposefully. One is not meant to sprint a marathon. Ironically, the first marathon ever, ran by Pheidippides during the battle of ...(wait for it)... "Marathon", was sprinted. But upon his arrival to Athens, Pheidippides had barely enough strength to deliver news of the Greek victory, "Joy! We win!", before dropping dead where he stood.
We honor you Pheidippides, the original goose-gutter!
It took exactly one instance for the rest of us to decide sprinting marathons might not be the best course to take. Why on earth can we passionate freelancers not learn from our own suffering? Why must we repeat this process time and again, sprinting and dropping, killing our money making mallards?
I cannot answer the "why", nor do I find the "why" to be of much importance. What is important is that we take time to rest and rejuvenate; to perform the scheduled maintenance of our brains and bodies in order to preserve our capacity to produce.
We may be tempted to push and rush and drive our levels of production to new heights, but let us remember, the engine will explode. And when it does, the time taken to rebuild the engine and re-motivate is worlds greater than the effort to plug along "at a medium pace".
Your body, brain and business will thank you.