Each week, I talk to so many people who are facing very stressful situations at work and in their personal lives. When preparing for a recent Individual Resilience workshop, I came across a great fable that describes the different ways we can respond to stressors–and the impact our responses can have on the outcome of the situation, not to mention our wellbeing.
A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling.
It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.
Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil, without saying a word.
In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.
Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me what you see.”
“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.
Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its richness and savored its aroma.
The daughter then asked, “What does it mean, mother?”
Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity – boiling water. Each reacted differently.
The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened.The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.
“Which are you?” she asked her daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?” Author unknown
As others have observed, the carrot, before being boiled was resilient and strong but not so tough it would not bend. After boiling, the carrot kind of ‘caved’ under the pressure of being boiled. The egg started off with a protective shell with a ‘soft heart’ inside and emerged from the boiling water hardened, which is like the defensive walls of protection some of us put up to prevent from further hurt or disappointment in stress and adversity. The coffee, in its bean state, turned the water brown and when the bean is subjected to further stress and turned into coffee grounds, it really comes into its own. It not only changes the colour of the water but it enhances its flavour and the full bodied aroma of coffee is released in a way that is not possible in just the bean or the dry ground state.
What about you? What success have you had in responding like the coffee, changing the circumstances or at least their impact on you, showing some of your best strengths and grace? What are the triggers for you to respond like a carrot or an egg and how could you change those responses to be more like coffee?