A very early memory of mine is walking with my mom to the church down the street on a Saturday morning before Easter Sunday to participate in an Easter Egg hunt. Way back then the local church would put on quite a hunt with certainly hundreds of eggs placed around in the rather expansive gardens outside the church.
I was probably only maybe four years old at the time. All the kids would line up and go look for eggs together on the “Go” signal. Mom helped me find a neighbor boy, a friend of mine who was a couple of years older than me, to stand by and feel more comfortable while we waited to start.
On “Go,” we all headed off to search for eggs. I followed my friend around, just a few paces behind him as we did the hunt. Everywhere he went, I followed. He would look under a bush, I would look under the bush. He would look next to the wall, I would look next to the wall.
Mom observed all of this, going on for maybe 20 minutes, as I searched everywhere my friend searched right after he’d searched there. It was no surprise at the end that my friend’s basket was overflowing with eggs while I’d found only three or four.
Mom put on her sympathetic face and probably gave me a hug or something. She said, “Matt, you can’t expect to find a lot of eggs if you search where everyone else is searching.”
I remembered that well. The next year, I didn’t follow my friend. I searched where nobody else was searching. At the end my basket was overflowing; I seem to recall counting 20 eggs.
The next year, they had budget cuts and they canceled the Easter Egg hunt, and they’ve never done it again.
Still, I’ve remembered that lesson my whole life. I’ve used it in pretty benign situations, like trying to find a parking spot at the mall during the holidays. But lately I’ve been using it a lot more for more significant things, like my career.
There’s a really interesting part in the book “Linchpin” where he addresses the desire of readers to have explicit instructions on how to become a great leader. I can relate to this desire also. Seth Godin makes a great point in the book: If you are trying to become a linchpin, and part of being a linchpin is being a leader, how can you possibly expect someone to give you instructions on how to get there? If there are instructions to follow, this implies you are a FOLLOWER, not a LEADER!
It’s unfortunate that it’s taken me such a long time to internalize a lesson I was taught when I was so little, but I’m kinda pleased that I seem to be getting it now. But in case you don’t believe me or Seth Godin, maybe you’ll believe Robert Frost. He also taught us this lesson using different words:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the road less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.