When Professor Alex Edmans presented this past Wednesday for the Peer Perspectives on Leadership series, he emphasized the importance of realizing that we have much more control over our lives than we ever seem to admit. He illustrated that the very freedom we seldom choose to acknowledge takes seven different forms. One of these is the belief that we should be careful not to focus solely on the task at hand that we sacrifice the enjoyment of the journey.
The Freedom to Savor
Professor Edmans described a story from Paulo Coelho’s book, The Alchemist, about an aspiring youth who visits a wise, successful merchant in a mountain palace. Seeking to learn the secret of happiness from the wise man, the youth asks him to describe what he can do to find fulfillment and a successful life. The sage listened attentively, but told him that at that moment he did not have the time to explain to him the secret of happiness and instead suggested that the young man tour the palace and come back later.
“However, I want to ask you a favor,” he added, handling the boy a teaspoon, in which he poured two drops of oil. “While you walk, carry this spoon and don’t let the oil spill.”
The young man began to climb up and down the palace staircases, always keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. At the end of two hours he returned to the wise man.
“So,” asked the sage, “did you see the tapestries hanging in my dining room? Did you see the garden that took ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?” Embarrassed, the young man confessed that he had seen nothing. His only concern was not to spill the drops of oil that the wise man had entrusted to him.
“So, go back and see the wonders of my world,” said the wise man. Now more at ease, the young man took the spoon and strolled again through the palace, this time paying attention to all the works of art that hung from the ceiling and walls. He saw the gardens, the mountains all around the palace, the delicacy of the flowers, the taste with which each work of art was placed in its niche. Returning to the sage, he reported in detail all that he had seen.
“But where are the two drops of oil that I entrusted to you?” asked the sage.
Looking down at the spoon, the young man realized that he had spilled the oil.
“Well, that is the only advice I have to give you,” said the sage. “The secret of happiness lies in looking at all the wonders of the world and never forgetting the two drops of oil in the spoon.”*
To hear more about the rest of the “seven freedoms” (freedom to reject, to rest, to savor, to dare, to respond, to serve, and to do what you love) described by Professor Edmans, see his video presentation by locating the link on the Wharton Peer Perspectives on Leadership Facebook page or through SPIKE’s Media tab under the Perspectives on Leadership channel. If you are interested in nominating a classmate with a compelling story to speak for the series, please contact Lindsay Schroll, (WG’14) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Excerpt from “The Alchemist,” by Paulo Coelho from the Paulo Coelho blog, paulocoehloblog.com.