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The Goose or the Egg

Originally published on October 17, 2019

Happy Thursday,

One of the books that has had the largest impact on the way I see the world is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  It has made me a better listener, grown my empathy, and helped me prioritize the things that matter the most.  I wanted to take a moment to share one of my favorite take-aways.

Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits uses the fable of the goose that laid the golden egg to highlight the meaning of effectiveness since the book is premised on habits of effective people.  In case you don’t know the fable, it goes like this…

“This fable is the story of a poor farmer who one day discovers in the nest of his pet goose a glittering golden egg.  At first he thinks it must be some kind of trick.  But as he starts to throw the egg aside, he has second thoughts and takes it in to be appraised instead.

The egg is pure gold!  The farmer can’t believe his good fortune.  He becomes even more incredulous the following day when the experience is repeated.  Day after day, he awakens to rush to

the nest and find another golden egg.  He becomes fabulously wealthy; it all seems too good to be true.

But with his increasing wealthy comes greed and impatience.  Unable to wait day after day for the golden eggs, the farmer decides he will kill the goose and get them all at once.  But when he opens the goose, he finds it empty.  There are no golden eggs—and now there is no way to get more.  The farmer has destroyed the goose the produced them.”

Covey uses this fable to teach the reader that effective people understand the need for balance between the production of the eggs and the goose’s ability to produce the eggs

(you can watch him explain this in this video).  He calls this “P/PC Balance.”  Here P stands for “production” and PC stands for “production capability.”  It’s the idea that when you try to produce (P) more than you can within a given period of time, you compromise the production capability (PC).  “If you adopt a pattern of life that focuses on golden eggs and neglects the goose, you will soon be without the asset that produces golden eggs.  On the other hand, if you only take care of the goose with no aim toward the golden eggs, you soon won’t have the wherewithal to feed yourself or the goose.”

I love this notion!  It’s the idea of making sure that you are in balance—not working so hard that you can’t enjoy the fruits of your labor but also not resting so much that you are unable to help yourself or others.  There is so much that can be gleaned from this simply analogy.  At the same time, when you read this, you probably do so with the lens that you are the goose that has the ability to lay golden eggs when given the right conditions.  You probably see yourself as someone who is or has been overworked or undervalued from time-to-time by the farmer (which you may label as the state education department, your principal, district office, etc.).  That’s fair.  There certainly are times when that does happen.  All the same, I want to challenge you to think equally about the times when you are the farmer.  Who are your geese and are you creating conditions for them to effectively lay golden eggs?  I am not saying that things should be made “easier” or “harder” for others, but that the conditions should be such that there is balance between what you’re trying to produce and the conditions in which that production is happening.

The other thing that’s worth noting is that there are times when you are the farmer for yourself.  I don’t know about you, but I can say that I am a better farmer for others than I am for myself.  I struggle with personal-professional balance and often find myself in this 24/7 world checking email, writing memos, working on agendas, etc. for hours each night at home.  I wish that I was better at structuring my time in a more effective manner so that I could enjoy the very best eggs I have in my life—my kids and my husband! 

What do you think of Covey’s use of this fable and how do you relate to it?  In fact, some of things I do now to help improve my balance came from great advice, so I’d love any ideas that you can share about how you create personal-professional balance.


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1 Comment

Katie Leven
Katie Leven
Apr 29, 2022

This comparison made me think of burn-out. If you push yourself too hard for too long, I set a timer on my iPhone with the name as an important reminder. My favorite right now is 4pm (as everybody is arriving home and I’m starting to cook dinner): “take a deep breath. You’ve got this!”

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