Once, a daughter complained to her father that her life was miserable and full of problems. She was tired of fighting and struggling all the time. It seemed as if just when one problem was solved, another one soon followed.
Her father, a chef, took her to the kitchen. He filled 3 pots with water and placed each one on a high fire. Once the 3 pots began to boil, he placed potatoes in one pot, eggs in the second pot, and ground coffee beans in the third pot. After 20 minutes, he turned off the burners, and put the potatoes and eggs in separate bowls, and poured the coffee in a cup.
Turning to his daughter, he asked, “What do you see?”
“Potatoes, eggs, and coffee,” she hastily replied.
“Look closer,” he said, “and touch the potatoes.”
She did and noted that they were soft. He then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, he asked her to sip the coffee. Its rich aroma brought a smile to her face.
“What does this mean?” she asked.
He then explained that the potatoes, the eggs, and the coffee beans had each faced the same adversity – the boiling water. However, each one reacted differently to the situation. The potatoes went in strong and hard, but in boiling water became soft and weak. The egg was fragile, with the thin outer shell protecting its liquid interior, until it was put in the boiling water. Then the inside of the egg became hard. However, the ground coffee beans were unique. After they were exposed to the boiling water, they changed the water itself and created a new liquid.
“Which are you?” he asked his daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a potato, an egg, or a coffee bean?”
I do not know the original source of this anecdote but it left me with a resounding impact and triggered some reflection. The moral of the story is that there are different approaches to dealing with problems. We have to evolve to face new problems and overcome challenges with every step in life. Reality is that life is never going to be perfect and problem-free. But, how we face our problems can make a big difference. Sometimes, we give in and lose to our problems or, we harden our hearts and turn away. Then, it is our own perspective that stops us from persevering and managing the situation.
No life is free from adversity and we can choose how to exercise our strength against it. As I have gotten older, I have noticed the average adult is not a great problem solver; perseverance and self reflection are not concepts that we are consistently taught to value and practice consciously as a part of the childhood curriculum, in school or at home.
So personally, what is my reflection and experience related to this story? The problems in my life that affect me the most also represent the most important factors of my life. And that is exactly why I cannot afford to lose against them or walk away from them. At best, these reactions can be momentary coping mechanisms and, if it escalates to any level beyond that, it just adds to the problem. When I am able to adopt a more constructive perspective, I can make the coffee, as the story goes.
At work, my previous manager was not keen to teach me about the work. There were moments where I lamented this fact and my lack of progress concerned me. But then, I decided to not be dependent on this individual; I relied on my own competency, studied prior projects, did my own research, and approached other co-workers as resources to build my knowledge and skills. It has made me much stronger at my job and I work on projects that are well beyond the capacity I could have reached if I had given in and stuck to the little guidance I received, or if I had become demotivated and stopped trying to do my job well. At the same time, I had to show respect and patience for my boss no matter how I felt about the individual. Sometimes, I lost patience but, in the long run, I developed my own rhythm for the particular situation I had found myself in.
In facing every problem in life, I hope that I can remind myself to be strong and aim to persevere. I can accept and evolve a situation to work for me. Giving up or running away are not solutions that I have to entertain.