The Story of The Little Red Hen

Posted by on Jul 2, 2013 in careers, Uncategorized | 0 comments

The Story of The Little Red Hen

When you were little, were you ever told the story of The Little Red Hen? In the story and pictures I recall, the little red hen was an anthropomorphised chicken who lived in a picturesque cottage in a delightful rural setting on a small plot of land. Her human-like abilities were quite well developed because this particular hen was able to plant flowers in her garden and grow crops on her land. The heart of the Little Red Hen’s story revolves around the farming of this land. If you’ll allow me for a moment, I’ll tell it here.


It was springtime and the Little Red Hen (LRH) was ready to plant corn. Living close to her house was what can only be described as a small gang of rats and weasels. Just like LRH, this gang’s members were highly anthropomorphic in their behaviour, dress sense and ability to speak English. Despite their mildly menacing demeanour, LRH didn’t judge the gang by appearances and being a good neighbour, asked the less-than-loveable rogues if they would help with her planting. Of course planting corn looked and sounded like hard work so the rotten rodents said a flat ‘No’ and rather rudely laughed in her face.

Undeterred and undaunted, LRH set about planting the corn herself. As spring turned to summer she tended her crop until it stood high, golden and ready to harvest. While all of this tending and growing took place, the weasels and rats had sat idly by. Sadly, the version of the story I heard didn’t report the gang’s precise movements but, like parents at a One Direction concert, they were never far away.

Despite all of their loitering with menace, LRH wasn’t the kind of chicken to hold a grudge against the rat/weasel gang. To prove this she asked the group for their help to bring in the harvest. Not surprisingly their reply was another ‘No’, so LRH dutifully harvested the corn by herself. As summer drew to a close, the hen gave this anti-social bunch one final opportunity to do something constructive with their lives and help her grind the corn to make flour for bread. Sticking to type they refused this final chance at redemption, choosing to ridicule the futility of LRH’s labour instead.

Not long after this final rebuttal, dough was baking in LRH’s oven and a beautiful smell wafted from the farm house straight to the miscreants’ noses. In a rather shameless flash, the gang were soon knocking on LRH’s door begging for a slice of delicious bread. A request to which she quite sternly replied, “No. You did not share in the labour, so you shall not share in its reward.” The last we see of LRH in this story was her sat in her kitchen, eating a large slice of thickly-buttered bread in full view of the slavering rats and weasels outside her window. Job done.


Like many nursery stories, The Little Red Hen is a parable of virtue. A children’s story that depending on your point of view either cements the value and place of work in our lives or represents a rural-social idyll where work is plentiful, always rewarded and only the idle go without. If her story were only told for these reasons, perhaps the Little Red Hen is best left in the past. However, I think she is redeemed by what could be the story’s greatest relevance to careers in the modern economy and our present-day world.

Because the modern reality of work places huge importance on self-actualisation (see Maslow & extended studies thereon), for the longest time it is likely there will be no active external support to our careers and the achievement of our chosen aims. The Little Red Hen demonstrates that negative external forces (and/or the lack of positive external forces) do not have the power to stop us.

Like the Little Red Hen, the power to start, continue and stop (a small task or big mission) lies chiefly with you. As an individual you can choose to work hard on the task(s) directly in front of you. You can also challenge yourself to see an immediate task as part of a wider context, understanding why it is linked and and how it connects to your next steps and longer term aims.

In my view, the story of the Little Red Hen is indeed worthy of reflection as we are all individuals with intrinsic career ambition. We may not all be bakers, not many of us own farms, hardly any of us are plagued by lazy rodent gangs and none of us are chickens, but we can singularly and determinedly set out to follow and achieve our own goals, and perhaps we can be grateful to a nursery book chicken for teaching us the importance of that.

The Little Red Hen: Rural Anachronism, Modern-Day Career Hero
or Simple Nursery-Tale Character? You decide.
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