I went to a restaurant over the weekend, An Irish pub that I like and go to often. I ordered mashed potatoes with my entrée, and asked for gravy to go with. When I got the bill I discovered that I was charged 75 cents for the gravy. My reaction was, Really? OMG are you kidding? I hate when they nickle and dime you like that. Ever go to a Mexican restaurant and ask for extra cheese or sour cream, and get charged a dollar for it? The first thing that comes to mind is how Bob Farrell says to give them a pickle. Bob Farrell started Farrell’s Ice cream parlors. He later became a business coach and motivational speaker. He is most famously known for his “Give them a pickle” speech where he says to not be cheap, the customer’s satisfaction is your top priority, and give them a pickle with their hamburger. The key here is you will more than make up for the cost of a pickle, or side of gravy, by winning a repeat customer. That repeat customer will return on your pickle investment several-fold over time with sales volume.

This morning I got to my day job and was thinking as I walked to get a cup of coffee. Things are going somewhat downhill there as they no longer provide free coffee. The medical insurance benefits they offer are covering less and less each year, and other benefits are being scaled back. I call it benefits erosion. Also it seems that hard work doesn’t go appreciated as much as I think it should. That got me thinking about Sisyphus. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus, the king of Ephyra, was punished for conspiring to kill his brother and father (for power). As a punishment, Sisyphus was condemned by Zeus to roll a large boulder up the side of a mountain, and each time as he got to the top, the boulder would uncontrollably roll back down the mountain. Sisyphus would have to go to the bottom of the mountain and roll the boulder back up the mountain – repeating this tedious task for eternity. This is why pointless or insufferable tasks are often called “Sisyphean”.

A few years ago I worked on a project where I spent many overtime hours, working hard towards a goal. The work was rewarding and the management was motivational, but it was very stressful. Working like this over a long period of time will make a man yearn for work-life balance. In our era of entrepreneurial worship where hard work is a measure of our worth, it is blasphemous to say such a thing. The speaker is made to think they are lazy or just don’t want to be successful. I think this is not always true. When your efforts are unappreciated or go unrewarded, of course there is a disincentive to work more than you need to. However, when I first started my podcast and web site, I would work all day, then come home and work late into the night and through the weekends. I didn’t complain about the long hours or lack of recreational time. Why? Because I was working with a purpose. The work was the reward.

When your work has meaning and purpose, it is rewarding. That meaning and purpose is defined by you. It helps if you get paid a lot of money, or if people are giving you many accolades. These are external rewards, and they can be effective. However nothing is more effective than when you feel that internal sense of reward from the meaning that you give the work. For example, working for yourself building a business or working for no financial reward but instead for a good cause provides a very rich and meaningful return on your time invested. Marcus Buckingham would call this working to your strengths. Because it gives you energy and enthusiasm. You look forward to it, and after spending many long hours working on it you feel a sense of accomplishment. So I feel if a person is seeking a work-life balance, it’s not that necessarily that they are lazy or lack entrepreneurial spirit, it’s that they are not working to their strengths. Most entrepreneurs work longer and harder hours than employees for a reason, it’s because they are working towards their purpose – building their company. And they aren’t making someone else rich, they are making themselves rich (eventually).

If you are like me then you enjoy reading books on personal growth and business. There are many books written by many authors on many subjects. Most of them are filled with great ideas that actually work. However some of them not so much. How can we tell the difference? Some books are written by very successful business people who have achieved stellar success in their lifetime. Once they are at a point where they want to share their journey with others, telling how they reached success, they usually go on speaking tours and write books. This sounds great in theory, however often once they reach success they can’t accurately recite everything they had to do to get there. Some advice they give can be valuable, but some of it is trying to piece together what happened, like in a chaotic crime scene to determine how it happened. I heard a successful person say exactly this. Some things they are pretty sure contributed to their success but they can’t list all the things that contributed to their success. Most successful people attribute a certain percentage of luck to their success. Nassim Taleb in his book, Fooled by Randomness, discusses how many successful people attribute their success to their skills. However when further analyzed it is revealed that more often than not it was randomness that got them their success more so than purely based on their skills. There is a world full of very smart and hard working people who fail every day because they were not in the right place at the right time.

I do feel that you can improve your odds of success by learning skills through reading, mentoring, taking classes, etc. The funny thing is that the world is also full of people who read books, participate in mentoring, and take classes, yet they still fail. To quickly summarize, I feel there are certain factors that need to be considered when learning any particular piece of knowledge:

Is it correct?
How do I use it?
When do I use it?

You can learn blatantly inaccurate information and not know it. So test everything you learn. How do you test it? You execute it correctly and at the right time. How do we do that? I would like to use my canoe analogy that I devised for this specific topic.

Imagine you are told that paddling a canoe will get you anywhere you need to go. Sounds right. So you take your canoe out onto the water and practice the technique of paddling. You are learning how to use that knowledge. The paddling technique. And by doing so you also prove that yes in fact you can get to where you need to go if you paddle your canoe. Now let’s add in the 3rd component, when to use the technique. Lets say you are carrying your canoe from the car to the water. Do you paddle then? No. Paddling on land won’t get you anywhere and could break your paddle. So use the paddling at the right time, when you are in the water. This sounds silly, but there is a time when the canoe is on land and a time when it is in the water. This simple example is showing how you need to use the right technique at the right time.

Now lets say you are on the water and you are paddling. All of a sudden you stop moving, even though you are still paddling. Come to find out you are hung up on a sand bar. Ok so here is another example of when paddling won’t get you where you need to go, even though you are on the water! We need to take context into consideration when applying techniques. Like when speaking a language, context is frequently used to convey meaning, and in different contexts the same word or phrase can mean something completely different.