Saturday, November 14, 2009

Parable of the Carrots, Eggs & Coffee

(Author Unknown)

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed every time one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, ' Tell me what you see.

Carrots, eggs, and coffee,' she replied.

Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.

Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The daughter then asked, 'What does it mean, mother?'

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. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had 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? Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate yourself to another level? How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human and enough hope to let you know joy.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A lesson in Active Listening

For the past several months I've been applying for all sorts of jobs as I seek to find what the next chapter of my life will be. I've been managing a small non profit for about a year. I'm good at it and it has it's rewards, but I really longed to get back into an academic setting. So I applied for both administrative and teaching positions at colleges in several different states. Lately I've been focusing on Idaho colleges since that is where I really want to live.

Way back in January I had applied for a job at the College of Southern Idaho which is in Twin Falls. I never heard back from them. Then a couple months ago I applied for a different job at the College of Western Idaho in Nampa. That one was a senior student services position that sounded like a very good fit for my skill sets.

I was thrilled when I got the phone call from them saying they wanted to schedule me for a phone interview. I spent several days researching EVERYTHING there was to know about the college and this particular position.

I took off work at noon to get home early and be very prepared for my 2:00 PM interview. I was well rested, I was prepared, I was confident. This was my moment. I was READY to give my very best. 15 minutes into the interview I felt like I was IN THE ZONE... I was comfortably fielding questions from 5 different people and felt we were communicating VERY well. I could tell from the way they were responding to my answers that they were pretty impressed. It really did seem we had a match.

At some point I said something about how exciting it would be to be part of a brand new community college and establish a culture of excellence right from the start. Most of my jobs in the past have been targeted at fixing systems that were broken. With this job it would be an opportunity to develop something new from the ground up which would be a wonderful challenge.

That's when the bottom dropped out.

They were confused for a minute and then said, "well, we are not a new community college. That would be College of Western Idaho. We've been here for many years."

HUH??? Now it was MY turn to be confused. I thought I WAS interviewing with College of Western Idaho. I had spent all that time researching and preparing to know all there was to know about them and this particular position. But now they were telling me the interview was not what I had anticipated. For one long, perilous, mind-bending moment I was caught in a twighlight zone of stupor. I had absolutely NO IDEA who I was actually even talking to or what job I was being considered for.

So I took a deep breath and plunged on. I said "oh, my mistake. Could you tell me a little bit more about your program?" Then I just shut up and listened very, very carfully to get my bearings while they described in more detail about the job they had in mind.

Apparently I mis-heard the person when they called to set the interview in the first place. This was the College of SOUTHERN Idaho. In Twin Falls. For the project manager job I had applied for way back in January.

Oh my.

So I faked my way over the gaffe and actually did a pretty good job of the rest of the interview. I am usually quite skilled in interview settings and have talked my way into more than one job I wasn't even particularly qualified for at the time simply by convincing an employer I am bright and could learn the needed skill sets quickly. I did manage to get the conversation back on track to my strengths and how I might be a good fit for them. But the whole time I was feeling foolish, embarrased and confused. How could I have possibly talked to these people for all that time and SEEMED to be connecting so very well when they were not who I thought they were and we were talking about totally different sorts of jobs? How dumb is that?

I can see now how I made the mistake. I had dismissed this job in my mind long time ago and more recently focused on the one in Boise that just closed March 8. So, when they called and said something about "Calling to set up a phone interview for the position at College...Idaho" my brain skipped over the SOUTHERN and heard what it wanted to hear. Add to that the fact that I took the call at work when I was caught up in the midst of three different dramas at once, so I did not have my best focused attention on the phone. Therefore, it IS sort of understandable how I made the initial mistake. But to go on talking to a team for 15-20 minutes and STILL hold onto my false assumption? THAT'S the part I don't get. Surely I should have picked up early on what was up. However, I did not.

There are definitely some important lessons here about how our perceptions can be shaped by our desires and expectations / previous assumptions, etc. I heard what I WANTED to hear, not what was actually said. Then, because I THOUGHT I had accurate information and did not feel confused, I did not bother with the usual clarifying questions one uses in a state of ambiguity.

NOTE TO SELF - ANY time I am communicating with others it is helpful to practice more "active listening", paraphrasing back what I THINK I understand in order to help them feel totally heard and to make sure I don't get my foot caught in a bear trap of miscommunication without even knowing it!

Also, when it is a high stakes communication, it's good to ask them to repeat back to me what their understanding is of what I have said just to be sure we are on the same page.

The long and short of it is I spent all that energy focusing on STUDENT RETENTION when that isn't what I was being interviewed for at all. The interview was for a project manager job that was looking for more fiscal oversite. I have experience managing a 2.5 MILLION dollar budget before, but I never even mentioned that since I was all prepared to talk about my other skill sets. Would I have gotten the job if I had handled it differently? I'll never know for sure.

I'm still more than a little embarrassed that I didn't pay better attention, that I got my wires so seriously crossed. But I'm able to take it in stride now, take the lesson learned and move on. It happened. Life goes on.

The trick is to learn from it and change my approach next time.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Substitute Memories

I've been cleaning out a closet full of boxes that have never really been touched since we moved to the farm last July.

Among many other things I found a pack of letters I had written to my father-in-law over the years which I took back after he died.

In one from 1997 I told him about the work I was doing at that time as a substitute teacher in the local elementary school. This is what I shared:

"This past week I have been in Kindergarten, First Grade, Second Grade and a Special Ed Eighth Grade. What an adventure! I learned many things.

I learned that eggplants are not really vegetables, they are a fruit. (Kindergarten class was learning all about the letter V, and that's what the vegetable book says.)

I learned the value of perspective from a second grader, who when told he really should not eat paste replied very matter of factly, "well, it's better than eating boogers."

I learned to savor the first grade cheer which is gleefully shouted every morning (complete with intricate hand motions) right after the pledge of allegiance. The cheer goes:
"I am SMART,

I think we could all benefit from starting our days that way.

I also learned the tragic consequences of negative labeling in the special ed eighth grade where a sweet fourteen year old boy told me "I can't do that stuff cause I'm learning disabled" even though I had seen him do basically what I was asking in a slightly different context.

This sub teaching has been the hardest work I've ever done. It is very rewarding, but absolutely exhausting. I honestly don't know if I will pursue further work of this sort once I get to Washington, but I do know I will forever remember and cherish these experiences."

Sad thing is...I didn't remember.
At all.

Oh sure, I recall that for a short time I worked as a sub teacher when we were getting ready to move and I'd had to give up my college job. But I COMPLETELY forgot each of those experiences I described.

About the only things I remember from that job is how I completely blew reading time because I had not calculated how long it takes to get 24 six and seven year olds in and out of snow suits and boots for recess only to find a third of them have to undo it all to go pee. I remember how mean fifth graders could be. I remember feeling rather out of my element most of the time.

This reminds me why I capture the bits and pieces of my life as they scramble by. If I don't write it down, I will forget. And I don't want to forget.

For all it's confusion, chaos and complexity, this life I'm living is worth recording.

I closed the letter to my father-in-law with something that had been on one of my classroom walls:

The Rules For Being Human

You may like it or hate it, but it will be yours for the entire period of this time around.


You are enrolled in a full-time informal school called life. Each day in the school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant and stupid.


Growth is a process of trial and error. Experimentation. The "failed experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiments that ultimately work.

A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it. When you have learned it, you can go on to the next lesson.


There is no part of life that does not contain lessons. If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned.

When you are "there" it has become a "here". You will simply obtain another "there" that will again look better than "here."

You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects something you love or hate about yourself.

You have all the tools and resources you need. What you do with them is up to you.

The answers to life's questions lie inside you. All you need to do is look, listen and trust.



Then I signed off the letter with "I feel truly grateful for all the lessons the universe is giving me right now. Many have been far outside my comfort zone. But each one has been a true gift. I hope whatever lessons are being sent your way are bringing you joy...even if it takes a while to find it. It's worth finding.

I'm really glad I found this letter. I needed reminding. I'm caught up in the middle of some big challenges right now. This helps me remember it's all a process of lessons. Breathe deep and keep learning. And don't forget to dance.