This is the way to live your life – and sell onions

A coaching client recently gave me a copy of Radical Hospitality – Benedict’s Way of Love by Daniel Homan, Lonni Collins Pratt.

Here’s a little story from that book that got my attention:

We have also lost our souls in the marketplace, in the bickering, the negotiating. Must we position ourselves as productive winners all the time?  Go with me to a corner of the sprawling market in Mexico City where an old Indian man named Potalamo is selling onions.  Twenty strings of onions lay in front of him.  A guy from Denver walks up and asks, “How much for a string of onions?

“Ten cents,” replies Potalamo.

Havana, Cuba-November 10, 2015. Busy residential street of Centro Havana. Old, rundown residential buildings, remembering better times from 50 years ago. Street life in full effect: Couple of corner street vendors standing next to produce cart, talking to the tourist photographer, giving him directions. Sitting next to them, on the steps man sleeping. People walking in the background. Facades are in bad shape due to long time neglect and poverty.

“How much for two strings?”

Potolamo fixes his eyes on him and says, “Twenty cents.”

“What about three?”

“Thirty cents.”

“Not much of a reduction for quantity.  Would you take twenty-five cents for three?”


“Well, how much for all of it, the whole twenty strings?”

“I will not sell you the whole twenty strings.”

“Why not?” asks the American.  “Aren’t you here to sell onions?”

“No,” replies Potalamo,

“I am here to live my life.  I love this market.  I love the crowds.  I love the sunlight and smell.  I love the children.  I love to  have my friends come by and talk about their babies and their crops. 

That is my life and for that reason I sit here with my twenty strings of onions.  

If I sell all my onions to one customer, then my day is over and I have lost my life that I love – and that I will not do.”

Wow – I stopped in my tracks upon reading that.  It’s so easy to become focused on commerce and productivity – counting sales in the course launch, clients enrolled, books sold, hours logged and dollars generated – that we overshadow the value of everyday relationships and community.  Look back on your week.  Were you selling onions or living the life you love? 

Did I take time to talk to the mom struggling with her kids in the grocery store or the UPS driver upset about having to work late?   Or was I so focused on my next speech to inspire my listeners that I missed these real life opportunities to share my message?  Do I greet each morning with a prayer of gratitude and a time of silence – or by grabbing my to-do list and a frantic scan of my iPhone? 

The journey we’re on is the value itself – not some distant destination.

One of my favorite quotations of all time is this:  The road is better than the inn.” ― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

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  • Wow! Great story. Thank you for sharing, Dan.

    It’s not always easy to slow down and take time to help someone who is struggling, but it’s always worth it in the end. Thank you for the reminder to be of value, each and every day, no matter what is going on around you.

    • Holly,
      Yep – those interactions in our business are as important as the financial exchange. Thanks so much for your input.

  • Wow – I love this – great post! What a beautiful story, and excellent reminder that it’s not just about gathering the riches, but identifying what is rich in our everyday lives – holding on to those pieces of gold that come from connecting with others, soaking in the sunlight, and enjoying the present moment as well. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Ashley,
      Thanks for your comments. You know I’m sensitive to the bigger and more attraction. I don’t want to lose sight of our original mission for being in “business.”

  • Cliff Feightner

    The living that you are going about to make
    Is it the money that you just want to take
    Or is a major attraction
    One on one interaction
    As a major time that you are awake

    • Cliff – once again you have captured perfectly the essence of this story.

  • Tim Wright

    This is an awesome story. Thank you for sharing it, Dan. As you said, sometimes we get so focused on productivity and profits that we can forget about living our lives in the the process. Excellent post.

    • Tim – thanks. Yeah we can get caught up in just “productivity and profits” and forget our original mission for being in business.

  • Johnny Miller

    This is a great story! Thank you for sharing this!

  • Dan

    It is a great story, and illustrates an important theme, but dang, if he sold twenty strings of onions couldn’t he remain sitting there enjoying the market still? Or even more deeply?

    • Dan – fair question. But I think the interactions over onions is part of the process of engaging well with people in this example.

  • Dave

    I figured out I will be 20,000 days old on 12/1/16. I’ve spend too many of those days loving goals, not people.

    • Dave – ouch. What a poignant phrase – “loving goals, not people.” Thanks for sharing.

  • David Hess

    If you can master your perspective you can manage your happiness. Me. I would just replenish my supply of onions.

  • Clark Gaither

    Love the story and the quote at the end. I couldn’t agree more, Dan.

    • Clark,
      Thanks. It’s so easy to lose sight of our original mission in business. I know you have a heart to serve – not just to sell more onions.

  • Dan, I have actually seen this lived out in a small market in Nigeria. Everytime I visit, there is a man who sells the most creative pot covers and baskets. Using my Western mind, I go for bulk discounts and buyouts. He looks at me with a peculiar sadness as if I have missed the point of why he is there. Sometimes I wonder if the basket-guy (and your onion guy) are the smartest guys in the room. Presence is a powerful life-win.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    • Scott,
      Ah yes – I think sometimes we do in fact miss the point. Our focus on more and bigger may cause us to lose sight of our original mission.

  • Great post Dan…love the story and the message. A solid reminder to step back once in a while and consider what really matters to you, then strive to focus your efforts on that without regard to what everyone else thinks is the path to take. Thanks for sharing it!!

  • PaulVandermill

    Love this story Dan, thanks for sharing. We are doing life together. Many of us need the occasional reminder to appreciate and enjoy the richness of the journey.

  • memelia

    love this! totally agree that we can get too focused on our end goal and lose sight of the value of the present moment.