The 20th Horse

This parable, one of my favorites, was told by my teacher Manoj Chalam during a yoga retreat in 2018. I hope you enjoy it.

A householder, having lived a long life raising horses on a quiet farm, had passed away. Their 3 children, after laying them to rest, read their parent’s will. The will specified how all the householder’s possessions were to be divided, including the 19 valuable horses they had cared for.

The will stated that the oldest child was to have 1/2 the horses, the middle child 1/4 of the horses, and the youngest child 1/5 of the horses. As 19 cannot be divided equally along these fractions, the 3 children argued about how to divide the horses. No amount of negotiation would satisfy any of them.

At that moment, a traveler was riding past the farm on their horse. Upon learning of their predicament, the traveler offered to help. The traveler dismounted their own horse, and offered to add it to the group of horses. There were now 20 horses in total.

10 horses were given to the oldest child (1/2 of 20). 5 to the middle child (1/4 of 20). And 4 for the youngest child (1/5 of 20).

10 + 5 + 4 = 19 horses.

The traveler then took the reins of their own horse – the 20th horse that had been added, and was no longer needed – bowed to the 3 children, and departed.

10 Years

April 12th, 2020 marked the 10 year anniversary of my joining Reading Plus. It’s been an interesting ride, full of experiences both typical to a modern techie career path, and unique to my circumstance and abilities.

During my time here we have moved our servers from one colocation facility to another then moved our product infrastructure to the cloud, switched the entire company from Windows to Mac, switched our product from Java Applets to HTML5, quadrupled the size of the company staff, recapitalized the company, shifted to a fully remote team (courtesy of the pandemic) and helped millions of students improve their reading skills.

Each item in this list of professional accomplishments, nicely sized to fit neatly on my LinkedIn profile, hides intellectual complexity, emotional stress, and relationary realities. I would love to think that the sum of those experiences would spur me to abstract out a parable about Everything I Learned Along the Way. Instead, I find myself feeling that I have barely begun the real work.

There were ups and downs for me personally, of course. Along the way I suffered lots of imposter syndrome, wore too many hats, and twice found myself without a chair when the music stopped and had to reinvent my role. I built a great product development team, made mistakes, and stepped aside. Built another team that brought disparate disciplines together and it helped get Reading Plus through our 2019 recap event. I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to be part of both those teams.

There’s more to take stock in and use to plot a course forward. I like something that I heard Dave Snowden refer to in a talk recently in relation to complex systems – and I would posit that a career and a decade at a company would be an example – roughly paraphrased: “hindsight doesn’t lead to foresight, so manage for the present.”

I’ll try to keep that in mind.