09/14/2009 09:18 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Leap Excerpt: The Jelly Bean Fallacy

This is an exclusive excerpt from The Leap: How 3 Simple Changes can Propel Your Career from Good to Great


Not long ago, I was watching my three children race around the house when four-year-old Arden stumbled upon a jar of jelly beans. The jar had been sitting in the same place for days but only now had caught her attention, and as it did, you could almost see the lightbulb go off in her head. Suddenly, Arden turned to her two siblings, three-year-old brother Adam and two-year old sister Laine, and began talking about how great jelly beans are and what a find this jar was. In fact, she said, it was so great a find that she might just be able to figure out a way that they could have some if ...


The if seemed to do it. Within moments, Adam and Laine wanted nothing more than a taste of the jelly beans, so Arden made Adam pick up the clothes in her room for his first jelly bean, made Laine go get her a drink for the second one, and on and on. But Adam, it turned out, had very particular ideas about which jelly beans are best. In fact, he always chose a red one, and it wasn't many rounds of chores before nearly all the reds were gone.

Once Arden noticed the red jelly beans had been all but scraped up, the tide turned. Mind you, she still controlled an entire jar of jelly beans, but now all she wanted were the scarce red ones. Naturally, these being two-, three- and four-year-olds, a fight soon broke out that took nearly half an hour and an episode of Barney to calm down, but what was so fascinating to me was that once their attention was turned to something else, the jelly beans themselves lost all their value.

Arden initially had been able to set the perception of value very high even though the value was by any objective standard completely artificial. Without having a clue what he was really doing, Adam gained the upper hand by creating scarcity in a particular element of the asset class involved. In both instances, wants and needs were determined not intrinsically but from what others had.

Kids, right? All of us who have them have seen a drama like this played out before us, and we've probably all told ourselves they'll get over it as they grow up. But in fact, they-and we-for the most part never do. The stakes get bigger, the prizes higher, but so often we continue from cradle to grave to do just what Arden and Adam were doing in my living room: let others determine what's of greatest value to us and then base our needs not on what is best for us but on what other people have.

What has scarcity has value. We all know that-that's freshman economics, whether we're talking jelly beans or the last few dollars that will land us on top of the highest-paid heap. But value for what? For whom? That's the side of the equation we don't focus on.

There's a wonderful Buddhist saying I came across recently that has a lot to do with the subject at hand: "Western culture is a very major response to a very minimal set of problems."

That's what is crazy about so many of our lives, not the fact that we strive. Striving is good. It gives the journey meaning. But too often we strive toward goals that don't fulfill us, goals that aren't in sync with our own inner lives. Like fast-food devotees, we load up on the empty calories of life and ignore the sustenance that satisfies anything other than our immediate hunger.

Why? Because we have been conditioned that way. Because we are taught how to succeed but almost never how to define success in personal terms. The difference is as broad as an ocean.
It doesn't matter whether we are talking about job titles or corner offices or larger houses or country clubs or the new cars with dashboard veneers hand-carved by Tibetan monks. So long as we allow those external to us set the "value" for any object or experience, it will always be "value" with as asterisk, like a Barry Bonds home-run record. And the more asterisks we have on our value chart, the more likely we are to end up with a fancy title sitting in the corner window office, wondering how we ever got duped into paying so much for all these jelly beans.

The Right Journey
Successfully orchestrating your own leap isn't about money or titles. It's not about founding a company or saving the world or, really, outcomes of any kind. Great outcomes are what happen when you get the rest of it right. The leap isn't even about happiness, although I know no one who has made the kind of leap I'm writing about who isn't a far more complete and content person today as a result.

The leap is about making certain you are on the right journey. It's about living in your own Primary Color, your own intersection of passions and strengths, and not trying to squeeze into someone else's intersection. It's about putting square pegs in square holes and round pegs in round holes and not trying to force ourselves into roles that were never meant for us, or slaving toward a prize we will ultimately discover is worth very little. It's about the meaning and value derived from intentionality, from being in control of your life's own direction.

I call the process outlined in this book the "leap" because I have been through it and spent so many days talking with others who have done the same, and we all agree that at the moment you let go of your old trajectory, it is as if the normal rules of gravity have been suspended. You can call the moment of release -- that inflection point in the journey from good to great -- anything you want. Words in the end don't matter. The landing spot is yours alone. It's the journey that counts-that's where real clarity lies. That's where your future begins.

Order your copy of Amazon #1 bestseller The Leap: How 3 Simple Changes can Propel Your Career from Good to Great, today!