The best way to face difficult challenges in life can be gleaned from two of my favorite age-old stories. I rewrote them as inspiration for 2019.
A challenging situation
In a small Italian town, two hundred years ago, a reputable merchant owed a loan-shark a huge sum of money. Because of the exorbitant interest rate, the debt had grown too large to repay.
The loan-shark was old and ugly, but coveted the merchant’s young daughter. As an alternative to foreclosing the debt, he offered the merchant a devilish deal.
The loan-shark said he would place a white pebble and black pebble in a sack. The daughter would draw out one of the pebbles. If it was black, the debt would be wiped out and the daughter would marry him. If the pebble was white, the debt would be wiped out and the daughter would not have to marry him.
The merchant was disgusted with the proposal, but his daughter insisted they had no choice. So together they walked up a pebble strewn path to the village, whereupon the loan-shark hastily picked up two pebbles and placed them in a sack. But the daughter observed he had cheated, choosing two black pebbles.
Three choices in a challenging situation
The daughter had three obvious choices:
-Refuse to draw a pebble from the sack.
-Take out both black pebbles and expose the loan-shark for cheating.
-Take out one of the black pebbles and marry the loan-shark.
What did she do? She drew out a pebble, and before anyone saw the color, she “accidentally” dropped it to the ground amidst many other black and white pebbles. She then said to the loan shark:
“Oh, how clumsy of me. You draw the other pebble from the sack. Whatever color it is, we’ll know mine was the opposite.”
The loan shark was caught in his own devious scheme. Since the remaining pebble was black, the daughter’s pebble must have been white, clearing the debt with no obligation to marry.
What is the best way to face difficult challenges?
The merchant’s daughter faced a difficult challenge: saving her dad from financial ruin while not having to marry the loan shark. She solved it with creativity and quick thinking.
We all face difficult challenges, many lacking obvious solutions. They require the same kind of outside the box thinking used by the merchant’s daughter. Yet we often don’t do it. Why?
Surprisingly, studies show that the single greatest inhibitor to us thinking and acting creatively is not our inability to envision unique solutions, it’s our fear of acting outside the mainstream, risking ridicule.
So how do we overcome the fear of standing out, being unique, knowing it won’t always work out? When I want to try something creative that breaks tradition and might subject me to criticism, I try to be a deaf frog.
A pack of frogs was hopping through the woods when two of them fell into a pit. When the other frogs saw how deep the pit was, they yelled down that there was no hope of escape.
Initially, the trapped frogs ignored the warning, jumping as hard as they could, trying to get out. The harder they jumped, the louder the frogs at the top yelled, “It’s hopeless, stop the pain, die in peace.”
One of the frogs eventually heeded the discouraging advice, giving up. But the other frog jumped even harder and miraculously got out of the pit.
Surrounding him in amazement, all the frogs excitedly asked, “Why did you keep trying, did you not hear us?” The escaped frog replied, “I’m partially deaf. I thought you were cheering me on!”
Facing challenges in 2019
If you have audacious goals in 2019, there will probably be naysayers. My advice? Be a deaf frog. The more they discourage, the more you hear them cheering you on.