Raking Leaves: A Lesson in Life – Work Balance

forest-meadow-leaves-autumn-1

Last weekend, when we were enjoying the most pleasant mild weather, I decided to seize the opportunity to do some yard work. A good friend of mine has two tween-age daughters who are always looking for spending money, so I offered to pay them $2 a bag to help me rake and bag leaves and garden clippings. It was fascinating to watch the different approaches that they took and wonder what kind of entrepreneurs they would make if they ever opened a business.

Daughter #1 immediately decided that she was going to earn $16 for the afternoon and looked for ways to find easy leaf profits. She claimed dibs on the larger rake, headed for the area where the leaves were the deepest and set to work filling up a bag as quickly as possible without paying attention to any of the finer detail work.  Even this proved to require more effort than she was game for, though, so she seized upon a new strategy: get someone else to do the work for her. “Mommy, can you hold the bag for me?” she asked. “Mommy, can you rake for me while I hold the bag? I need help getting to my 8 bags.” As I looked on, I mused about what lessons she was absorbing about how to conduct business. Her intent was clearly to earn as much as possible while doing as little work as possible.

Daughter #2, in contrast, set a lower profit goal, having a broader picture of what she wanted to accomplish. Despite some grumbling that was really just for show, she was content to have the smaller rake.  She scooped about a quarter of a bag, stopped, threw some leaves in the air, raked up a pile of leaves and ran through it – gleefully! – went back to raking, played with the dogs, clipped some plants, employed the Mommy strategy, had a snack, looked around for interesting places to stop and work in the garden, and eventually filled 4 bags, making half as much money as her sister.

The girls were happy with their earnings, despite their very different afternoons. For Daughter #1, the bottom line was what mattered most. For Daughter #2, being able to enjoy life’s experiences mattered more. Both got what they wanted and asked if they could come back again to rake leaves on another weekend. Watching them made me think of something that I often advise my new-business clients. Know what you want. Know why you are in business and what you want out of it.

Wishing you a great weekend!

Laurie Pieper, Ph.D.
Business Advisor
Washburn University
America’s SBDC Kansas

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