how you react matters more than what happens to you

I came across an insightful short story sometime back and would love to share it with you today. Here’s how it goes:

Once upon a time, a daughter complained to her father that her life was miserable and that she didn’t know how she was going to make it. She was tired of fighting and struggling all the time. It seemed just as one problem was solved, another one soon followed.

Her father, a chef, took her to the kitchen. He filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Once the three pots began to boil, he placed potatoes in one pot, eggs in the second pot, and ground coffee beans in the third pot.

He then let them sit and boil, without saying a word to his daughter. The daughter, moaned and impatiently waited, wondering what he was doing.

After twenty minutes he turned off the burners. He took the potatoes out of the pot and placed them in a bowl. He pulled the boiled eggs out and placed them in a bowl.

He then ladled the coffee out and placed it in a cup. Turning to her he asked. “Daughter, 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.

“Father, what does this mean?” she asked.

He then explained that the potatoes, the eggs and coffee beans had each faced the same adversity– the boiling water.

However, each one reacted differently.

The potato went in strong, hard, and unrelenting, but in boiling water, it 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 and created something new.

“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?”

Wow, such an eye-opener, isn’t it? It’s not what happens to us, but it’s the way we respond or react that matters the most. 

As Jack Canfield writes, “The basic idea is that every outcome you experience in life (whether it’s success or failure, wealth or poverty, wellness or illness, intimacy or estrangement, joy or frustration) is the result of how you have responded to an earlier event in your life. Likewise, if you want to change the results you get in the future, you must change how you respond to events in your life… starting today.”

We can all use his success formula:

E + R = O (Events + Responses = Outcome)

The wisest amongst us know that they have no control over external things. They can’t control their luck and fortune. They can’t prevent a catastrophe or calamity from happening. Instead, they take responsibility for themselves and hone their respond-ability. They know they might have no control over what happens to them in their life, but they are in charge of how they respond to it. If they endure and persist, they know they can transform an obstacle (boiling water) into an opportunity (coffee).

An important truth we all must understand is that when we take extreme ownership of our lives — the good and the bad — we position ourselves to live a more successful and self-reliant life.