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When I visited the neighbors’ hens, they didn’t invite me into the henhouse. I just went uninvited and opened the cover over their nesting boxes. Thinking about that now my behavior seems kind of rude, but the hens were unfailingly gracious. They climbed up their ladder and stood by their nesting boxes as if they were vendors at a flea market, showing me the wares in their booths.

While I looked, more hens kept coming into the henhouse to see what the excitement was about. A customer! Admiring our eggs! They seemed happy to show off their spacious house, their cozy little nesting boxes, and their colorful eggs.

The hens are clearly accustomed to people peeping into their nests and collecting the eggs. They also seem quite willing to share a nest. Once a hen has laid an egg, she doesn’t defend the nesting box. She leaves it for the next hen. Perhaps they have a way of knowing whether an egg is fertile and therefore worth sitting on.

The ability to tell if an egg is fertile would be such a helpful tool, saving lots of wasted effort and ensuring that her effort was directed in a fruitful way.

We humans lay little eggs too in the form of starting projects. It’s important to have lots of ideas and project starts because a significant portion of our projects won’t come to fruition in the way we envision. If we don’t start things, nothing ever gets done, but if we don’t know when to walk away from an egg instead of sitting on it, we waste a lot of time.

I worked on a project for several years, gathering information, interviewing people, analyzing my results, and writing a first draft of a book. I spent quite a long time sitting on the egg. When it eventually became clear to me that egg was not going to hatch, I walked away and left the nesting box for whatever was coming next.

Once we have spent a long time on something it is hard to give it up. But what time we have spent is not coming back. All we can decide is how we spend our time going forward. As soon as you get the first whiff of that rotten egg smell, no little chick is going to come out, and no amount of sitting will change that. Walking away allows you to lay new eggs, more likely to hatch. Continuing to sit is both futile and smelly.

Count the eggs in your nest today. Not every egg will hatch. What ones do you want to keep? To leave? To invest time in? A caregiver needs less work, not more. Mindfully choose which eggs deserve your warmth and attention.

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