A Spoonful of Oil

By: Frank Danna, III

Recently I participated in a book exchange on Facebook where I sent one of my favorite books to a stranger and a stranger sent one of their favorites to me. The book I received was titled “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. It is a remarkable read. A story of a young man searching for treasure, only to find that the true treasure is already within each of us. Amongst the most poignant pearls of wisdom taught to the young man resonated with me and that is what I would like to talk about.

Without ruining this wonderful book for you, I’ll provide a primer as to the “spoonful of oil”. Upon meeting a rich and wise king along his journey, the young man is given a spoon. The king places a few drops of oil in the spoon and tells the young man to visit the castle, looking at the paintings, tapestries, and architecture. Additionally, he is told to enjoy these things, but also pay attention to the spoon, lest he spill the oil. The intent is for him to return having examined the entire castle while simultaneously paying attention to the spoon. While spilling the oil would not garner a punishment, it was intended to teach a valuable lesson.

When Vanessa and I owned “Squeetone’s Guitars” in El Paso, it was common for someone to walk in and ask: “How long will it take for me to learn to play (insert name of favorite song here)? My answer to that was always the same: “Well that depends on you, and your journey.” Perhaps that isn’t the answer that a budding guitar player wants to hear, but it is true. Most people don’t want to hear someone else tell them they will have to work hard in order to achieve a goal. If playing the guitar was easy, we would have loads of Joe Bonamassa’s in the world…and we don’t. What I wanted new guitar students to understand was that it isn’t about learning to play one or two songs. It is about the incredible journey along the way, and the reward is learning to play many songs!

This lesson was particularly interesting to me because Vanessa and I have really learned to focus on both the spoonful of oil, and the scenery. In the story, the young man didn’t quite understand the lesson to be learned, until the second time around. I believe that there are a wealth of lessons to be taken from the King’s request to the young man, but first and foremost I think that the King wanted the young man to realize that he would spill the oil on the first go around. He would likely have to take the trip around the castle again, in order to both fully appreciate the beauty of the castle, but also to ensure that the oil remained on the spoon. This task was not intended to discourage the young man, it was a simple way of teaching him that along his journey he would encounter challenges but he must remain focused on the task at hand.

The young man’s lesson from the King was a valuable one, sometimes we are tested to see whether or not we have it in us to take another go-around. Few of us can meet the challenges of a goal on the first try, and it is up to us to dust ourselves off and use all of our will power in order to achieve. I’ll be the first to say that I have spilled the oil from the spoon many, many times, we all have. In the end, no one will ask you how many times you tried and attempted something. They will, however, ask you what you learned and what you accomplished. If you have the opportunity to pick up a copy of “The Alchemist”, I would strongly recommend it, and I haven’t even scratched the surface of the lessons you may glean from reading it yourself.

Thank you for reading.


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