Imagine…

Three pots of boiling water with potatoes in pot one, eggs in pot two and a handful of ground coffee beans in pot three. After boiling for twenty minutes you observe the following:

Pot One: The potatoes are no longer hard. They are soft and easy to cut.

Pot Two: The eggs after being cracked open are no longer gooey liquid inside. Now they are hard.

Pot Three: The ground coffee beans transformed the water to a luscious dark brown with a wonderful aroma.

If the boiling water represents adversity and the potatoes, eggs and ground coffee beans represent three different ways people respond to adversity, what is revealed?

Pot One: Potato Response: A popular version of this story  stresses that there are people who face adversity with a hard, relentless determination and become weakened, soft, mushy, and easily broken (like the potatoes).

Pot Two: Eggs Response: Other people who are generally softer and ‘gooey nice’ (like raw eggs) before the adversity become harder. Sometimes people become cold and hard (refrigerated hard-boiled eggs) because of the adversity.

Pot Three: Coffee Beans Response: Then there are people who respond like the coffee beans and transform the adversity to something wonderful.

Are you softened or hardened by adversity? Or do you transform adversity and create something new and pleasing?

And there’s more appreciation for these three responses to adversity. 

Let’s take another peek at the positive character revealed by the examples of the boiled potatoes, eggs and coffee beans:

Pot One – Potatoes Softening: It can be disturbing to approach adversity from a hard, steadfast position of perceived strength and become overwhelmed, lost and defeated. As a result you are humbled. You step back and re-evaluate.

To be ‘brought to your knees” by adversity doesn’t make you a weak character. It’s a reasonable outcome for risking vulnerability and putting yourself out there. We don’t know strength without knowing weakness.

Celebrate your experience of softness. Re-frame the pejorative ‘weak’ label to an opportunity for increased understanding and new perspectives.

After coping with breast cancer treatment, my mother had to ‘soften’ in a way and accept more help physically and emotionally. The prognosis was terminal. A pioneer in her profession, strong, and independent she became more dependent, especially on my dad for help. While it was hard for both of them, I sensed they shared a new level of intimacy unlike they had known before.

There’s so many delicious things to enjoy and absorb through softening. Boiled, mashed potatoes? Pass the butter please.

Pot Two – Eggs Hardening: A father’s relationship with his adult daughter has become painfully difficult. He has always supported and protected her emotionally and periodically financially despite her poor choices. She has cut him off of any communication for the past two months since he said ‘NO’ to her and he is now suffering– and hardening.

His love for his daughter doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel angry and hurt by her refusal to talk to him at all. He believes his position which supported his ‘NO’ still comes from a place of concern and care. He doesn’t regret his decision to keep his boundaries and say ‘NO’.

He has decided to write to her and describe his pain. He isn’t going back to a softer, ‘gooey’ position. Rather he’s using the clarity achieved during this adversity, remaining firm yet compassionate.

Adversity can force you to define a position and be firm. The time is right. You have to become ‘tougher’– hardened to protect your integrity.

Pot Three – Coffee Beans Transforming: You gotta love this response. Blending with the adversity to create something wonderful is the best: and it’s a combination of both softening (breaking down) and hardening.

Afterall, a coffee bean has a hardness to it. And to be able to robustly transform the boiling water (adversity) it had to submit to the grinder (adversity) so it could be broken down (softened).

Sweet. So the coffee beans had already faced adversity (the coffee bean grinder) and came out changed to a ground coffee.

Transforming adversity and creating something positive is possible anytime. Sometimes what seems incomplete or only partially successful ends up being a valuable experience for transforming the next adversity.

So, when facing adversity which are you: a potato, egg or coffee bean?

I’ll take all three. Pass the salt and pepper please. Yes, I’ll take another cup of coffee.

So good.


Mary Franz LCSW, PCC  is a couple’s therapist, critical incident responder, and personal strategy coach. Need to talk about a personal or business relationship challenge? Visit her website and ask for a complimentary strategy session.