A Story About Hardship
A young woman went home to visit her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She was tired, upset, and annoyed at all these difficulties. Often times, she wanted to run away or give up.
Her mother listened empathetically, then took the daughter to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and boiled the water.
She then put a carrot in the first pot, an egg in the second pot, and coffee beans in the third pot. After twenty minutes or so, she turned off the fire and put all three items in separate bowls.
She put these three bowls on the dining table and asked her daughter, "What do you see?"
Intrigued, the daughter replied, "A carrot, an egg, and coffee."
The mother told her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that the carrots were soft and mushy. The mother then asked her to crack and peel the egg. She did and noticed the egg's inside had become hard. Finally, the mother asked her to sip the coffee. The daughter did and smiled at the rich taste of the coffee.
The daughter asked, "What's the point of all of this mom?"
The mother explained, "Each of these three objects faced the same adversity: boiling water. But each reacted differently. The carrot started out hard and strong but came out weak and mushy. The egg started with a soft inside and a tough shell, but it came out hard on the inside. The coffee beans were special: They changed the water. It used the hardship to elevate itself and accomplish greatness."
The daughter's eyes lit up as she understood the analogy.
The mother asked her,
"When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?"
I've come to notice that most people, including myself, dislike adversity and even hard work. But without adversity, how would the coffee beans become coffee? If we don't lift heavy weights, how would we gain muscle? If we don't encounter and overcome adversity, how would we achieve greatness?
Some people might say, "I'm not interested in achieving greatness. I just want to live a simple and comfortable life."
But just because you wish for a life free of adversity does not mean it will happen. Do you know anyone who does not face any adversity? Therefore, if you really want a comfortable life, you need to raise your tolerance level towards hardship rather than praying for hardships to not happen.
However, the point of this story is not to say that you should go looking for big adversities. Just like too little challenge is bad, too much is also bad. All things need to follow The Middle Way. When it comes to hardship, we should seek the stretch zone, where we feel challenged, but it is bearable.
We can train ourselves for hardship before hardship strikes. The Stoic philosopher Seneca said,
"I may wish to be free from torture, but if the time comes for me to endure it, I'll wish to bear it courageously with bravery and honor. Wouldn't I prefer not to fall into war? But if war does befall me, I'll wish to carry nobly the wounds, starvation, and other necessities of war. Neither am I so crazy as to desire illness, but if I must suffer illness, I'll wish to do nothing rash or dishonorable. The point is not to wish for these adversities, but for the virtue that makes adversities bearable."
Which hardship should you train for? Well, that depends on what hardship you are afraid of. To give some examples from myself, I was afraid of being hungry, so I tried fasting. I was afraid of people judging me, so I practiced public speaking. I was afraid of being broke, so I experimented with living like a poor person. When I did these things, I realized that none of these things were nearly as bad as I thought, and I toughened myself to these hardships. If such hardships happened to me in the future, I would be more able to handle them.
Am I a carrot, egg, or coffee bean? Which mindset do I want?
How can I live in the stretch zone and improve my resilience?
Weekly Wisdom Newsletter #186
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