In the winter of 2010, I drove from Washington to Philadelphia to join friends and family to celebrate the life and work of a beloved friend and mentor. I filled up the gas tank before departure and headed out in icy conditions.
The event was filled with endearing and moving testimonials. The forum gave all of us another opportunity to reflect on how precious life is and reconnect with what really matters most.
I returned to Washington the following day, filling up the tank again in the same station near my home. This time, I noticed a sign at the pump asking drivers not to leave their cars unattended and not to top off the tank. I casually asked the convenience store clerk if it would not be better for the business to let customers top off their tank. I thought that if everybody would squeeze in one more dollar of gas, sales would increase.
The clerk corrected me on that point. He told me that topping off your tank is not good for anyone. It is a waste because too much gas is spilled, it is bad for the environment, it is dangerous, it risks the potential of fire and it could actually kill someone.
I realized then that trying to pump just a bit more, just a few extra drops, could lead to devastating consequences.
What is true at the pump is also true in life. Too frequently, we try to top off our own tank. We add one more meeting to our schedule, we write one more email, make one more call, we drink one more cup of coffee, we see one more client, we put in one more hour of work before calling it a day.
We take on these extra chores for many reasons: We want to please, to maintain the reputation of "hard worker," "multi-tasker," a person with many hats. The pressure to conform is great. Staying late, working 10-12 hours a day, can mean higher status in certain organizations and be the path to promotion. Our egos can also get in the way; after all, we can handle more, and our culture is overrun by the sentiment that more has to be better.