The story tells the account of a farmer who discovers his goose had laid an egg of pure gold. Each day another gold egg appears and soon the farmer is very wealthy. As his wealth grows so does his greed and impatience. Thinking to get to the source of the treasure, the farmer takes an axe and kills the goose, only to find there is no store of gold inside.
Covey explains that the eggs represent your product, or the goal you wish to accomplish, or even an ideal. Then he says that the goose represents your production capacity, or your ability to produce the desired results. He refers back to this metaphor all through out the book and continually asks the reader is he/she is taking care of their goose or foolishly (or even ignorantly) killing it like the farmer.
As I pondered this fable, another analogy came to mind. Namely, how the process of forming habits is like exercise. It is commonly said that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Cultivating the will power to establish a habit is like building muscle. The muscle must first be conditioned. This three-week period of conditioning is critical because it is during this time when you are simultaneously building capacity and learning to accomplish new tasks associated with your goal. It is, in essence, an attempt to do something which you are not quite capable of doing. You are lifting weight which presses the boundary of your strength in order to increase your capacity. To do so requires a considerable amount of discipline.
Elder Jeffery R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said of this principle: “For a while the harder you try, the harder it gets, take heart. So it has been with the best people who ever lived.” (Read more of his address here.)
Covey’s analogy made me look at this fable differently than I had before. I realized that I had, as many people do, made a judgment based on the literal meaning of the story. I had failed to apply the universal principle. I thought, in effect, “how stupid of the farmer to slay his goose.” Yet I often fail to recognize my own golden goose, and effectually slay her, whether by the direct and immediate damage of outright violence or by the slow and subtle, yet inevitable, destruction of neglect.
I started asking myself, not only what I wanted and what my goals were, but also the more difficult questions. What is my capacity to accomplish them? Is my capacity what it needs to be? What am I doing to improve, and what am I doing that hinders my own accomplishments? How can I change or eliminate them? The answers were difficult to face because acknowledging these things would necessitate change.
Fear, doubt, laziness, lack of commitment, ignorance, selfishness, are all habits that destroy our golden geese, depriving us of the wealth of joy in obtaining the golden eggs, and there’s likely more than this list. I know I’m guilty of all of them in some form or another and at any given time. I don’t want to be like that, I’d rather have the golden eggs. Wouldn’t everybody?
A common maxim, carpe diem (meaning seize the day) has always intrigued me. Admittedly not because it is a motto by which I live, but rather because I have always found its meaning rather vague, subjective, and open for interpretation. More specifically, I find I must tell myself to seize the discipline necessary to exercise and increase my capacity in order to accomplish my goals. This daily struggle to press forward through the brief period of strength-building difficulty to develop the discipline will allow me to claim the golden egg as my reward.
As I pondered my own goals as well as my capacity to achieve them, introspection came in the form of a question (and I was pretty pleased with myself when I discovered it rhymed): Are you cultivating your capacity to produce, or slaying your golden goose?
Consider for a moment: What is your golden egg? What do you want? What is your goal?
Now consider: What is your golden goose? Are you slaying her by some bad habit? How can you change that habit to cultivate your capacity?
I love it when another person can offer fresh insight to something I’ve thought about. Please, share your insights in the comments.