By Kimberly Bustamante
A young woman spoke with her mother about how hard things were for her in her life. As soon as one problem was solved, a new one arose. She did not know how she was going to make it. She wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling.
Her mother took her to the kitchen and filled three pots with water, placing each on a high fire. The pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second – eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee. She let them sit and boil, without saying a word.
In twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished out the carrots and the egg, placing them in bowls. She ladled out the coffee and placed it in a cup. Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me what you see.”
“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.
Her mother asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted they were soft. The mother asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, the mother asked her to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its richness and savored its aroma.
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. After being subjected to boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting in the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee was unique, however. It 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?”
You can choose which to be.
Benjamin Hoff, in his book “The Tao of Pooh,” shares that the ancient Chinese Philosopher Lao-Tzu believed the world was a teacher of valuable lessons and in order to find true serenity and happiness we need to appreciate, learn from and work with whatever happens in everyday life (live life on life’s terms). It is important to allow ourselves to experience everything life brings – both good and bad – and learn from it all.
Everyone faces challenges and difficulties and must move on through dark, unexpected hours. When the hour is darkest and trials are greatest, how do you handle adversity? Do you shut down and allow feelings of anxiety, sadness and negativity overwhelm you? Or do you elevate yourself to another level?
My personal guide through difficulties rests on allowing myself to experience any negative feelings associated with the situation and also to consciously search for redeeming potential in those challenges. I purposefully search for things I can be grateful for and that I can learn and grow from. To me, gratitude and growth are essential to resilience. It’s not about powder-coating the negative or wearing rose-colored glasses. It’s allowing yourself to experience the negative and also think “here are other things I am grateful about.” It’s having both the negative and the positive sit side by side, feeling the negative emotions, being inspired by things I am grateful for, and looking to turn potential disasters into growth opportunities.
I’ve developed my resilient mindset over time, having faced various possible “derailments” such as the death of my mother (when I was 10), the death of my father (in my 20s), a divorce in my 30’s, and having a few close family members struggle with the tragedy of addiction and alcoholism. Each time life brings forward a new unexpected trauma, I purposefully seek to experience any negative feelings that come up: sadness, anxiety, anger, exhaustion, etc., and also think about and draw strength from the things in my life that I am grateful for: an amazing marriage, a wonderful family, a job I love, etc. I also seek to help others navigate through the crisis. By providing support to others I give myself something to focus on in addition to the situation. That gives me strength. I am confident that no matter what life “throws” at me, I will bounce back.
You don’t have to be born with a resilient mindset. You can develop it through conscious effort. When you are faced with challenges:
- Be grateful – Gratitude sidelines negative feelings such as envy, greed, self-pity, regret, which are kryptonite to resiliency. Gratitude diverts attention away from stress and worry and connects you to others so you don’t feel isolated, while improving your sense of self-worth.
- Realize it’s just part of life – Don’t deny your negative emotions but realize that life isn’t perfect. There will be trauma and drama. Isolated events do not determine what the future has in store for you overall.
- Get the support you need – Surround yourself with people who accept you for who you are and who you can turn to when times get tough.
- Challenge your self-talk – Don’t wallow in negative thoughts. Tell yourself you are strong and will get through the hardship. YOU decide how you will come out on the other side of difficulties.
- Make healthy choices – Exercise, get enough sleep, eat healthy. You need your body physically strong so you can focus on the mental part.
- Help others – Research proves that acts of kindness boost serotonin, the neurotransmitter associated with feelings of happiness and well-being, improving your mood and mentality
- Spend time outdoors – Research shows spending just 20 minutes outside leads to more expansive, open thinking, and a feeling of calm.
- Face obstacles head-on – When confronted with a crisis ask “what are my solutions for this?” Collect, plan and act until things are back to normal. Leverage challenges as opportunities to grow and evolve.
The more you practice, the more resilient you will become.
When faced with difficulties, are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean? You are what you want to be.
As Director of Operations for Wiss & Company LLP, Kim Bustamante is responsible for resource management, technology and culture keeping at the firm. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 973.994.9400.