I really don’t know how old this tale is, but it’s an interesting one.
It’s a short story that illustrates how most people cope with stress, how it is timeless wisdom and why most people who share it are not being as helpful as they could.
The story goes like that in one version:
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 just as 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 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 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, 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 are 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?”
Sometimes there is an additional line on how each of those deal with adversity that goes like that:
The potato goes hard and strong, but under the stress of boiling water becomes soft. Meaning that the potato seems tough on the exterior, but breaks under pressure.
The egg has a thin layer protecting the delicate interior, that becomes hard under stress. The analogy goes that the hardened interior could be petrified coping strategies after some kind of emotional loss.
And the coffee bean is the one able to transmute the boiling water into something else, making use of the catalyst and improving itself on the process.
Nice tale, excellent cannon fodder for motivational speeches everywhere.
But are you one type? Are you one type all the time? Or are you a mix depending on the situation you are facing?
We all want to be the coffee bean of the tale. Seems like a nice goal to have huh?
But the truth is, we are not like that all the time, otherwise we would be some kind of super powered being that is definitely not human.
Part of the human condition is the inevitable fuck up.
Is not knowing what to do. If you have an average life span, I can guarantee that you will experience many, many moments of darkness, of not knowing what to do.
In some situations you will have the presence to be the coffee bean. In others you will be the potato, you will crumble under the pressure. But the potato was also changed by the experience. And maybe becoming soft for a while is not so bad.
Because we can bounce back regardless of behaving like the potato, or the egg.
You don’t need to have the appropriate stoic and awesome response all the time. You probably won’t have anyway, and to assume otherwise is delusion that make sellers of watered down self-help advice richer and richer.
Embrace the diverse aspects of yourself, and accept that your response sometimes will be less than ideal. Instead of beating yourself up because of it, give it the awareness nod acknowledging the situation, and move towards the next moment, because that is all we have anyway.