Being successful isn’t that hard really. You just find something you’re good at, practice until you’re the best, and then profit. At least that’s how I hear it described a lot.
Unfortunately life isn’t that simple. There’s no extra time in my schedule to find something I’m good at. There’s no extra money to pursue a hobby. I don’t have the energy after a full work day to take on anything harder than the couch. It’s just not for me I guess.
I’ve read plenty of success stories, but those people didn’t start in the mess I’m in. They’re not working with my budget and time commitments. I really am stuck.
Many years ago in an Indian village, a farmer had the misfortune of owing a large sum of money to the village moneylender. The old and ugly moneylender fancied the farmer’s beautiful daughter, so he proposed a bargain.
“I will forgive your debt if I can marry your daughter.”
Both the farmer and daughter were horrified by the proposal, but the cunning moneylender suggested that they let luck decide the matter.
“I will put two pebbles, one black and one white, into this empty money bag. The girl will reach in and select a pebble. If she picks the black pebble she would become his wife and your debt will be forgiven. But if she picks the white pebble she need not marry me and your debt will still be forgiven. If she refuses to pick a pebble then you will be thrown in jail until your debt is paid.”
As he talked the moneylender bent down and selected two pebbles from amongst the black and white speckled path beneath them. The sharp-eyed girl noticed that he picked up two black pebbles and placed them into the bag. He then asked the girl to pick a pebble…
Weighing the Options
So here we are with seemingly no way out – what do we do? It seems there are only three options for the girl:
1) She could refuse to take a pebble, but her father would be thrown in jail.
2) She could select the black pebble and sacrifice herself to save her father from his debt.
3) She could pull both black pebbles from the bag, expose the moneylender for a cheat, and likely incite his revenge.
This is where most of us (myself included) stop. We see the wall, the insurmountable barrier, and nothing else. With the three options listed we confine our thinking to simply choosing the least awful outcome.
Maybe it’s working in a job you can’t stand. Maybe it’s not having the extra time to pursue your dreams. Or maybe you don’t have enough money to do anything at all!
But we’re better than this. We have to let our minds break out of the linear thinking we’re conditioned to rely on. We’ve got to find another way.
Here is what the girl did. She put her hand into the money bag and drew out one pebble. Without looking at it, she fumbled it and let it fall to the path where it immediately became lost among all the other pebbles.
“Oh, how clumsy of me,” she said, “But never mind, if you look into the bag for the one that is left, you will be able to tell which pebble I picked.”
Since the remaining pebble was black, it would have to be assumed she picked the white one. And since the moneylender dare not admit his dishonesty, the girl would have changed what seemed like an impossible situation into an extremely advantageous one.
What About You
I love this story because I was totally fooled the first time I read it. I didn’t see any way out for the girl. At the time I had just purchased a house and was working at a job I didn’t really like all that much. I felt stuck and didn’t know what to do.
This story helped me see how confined my thinking was. I began to work harder at thinking creatively about my circumstances. It didn’t come easy at first, and I’m still no expert, but practicing this discipline has helped me find many opportunities I would have otherwise written off as “impossible.”
Think of a small problem you have right now that you’ve resigned yourself to living with. Maybe you want a new bike but can’t afford it. Or perhaps you want to explore a hobby but don’t have the time. Take out a sheet of paper and write down the problem at the top of the page.
Now set a timer for 10 minutes and start it.
Before the timer goes off you will have 20 ideas to solve the problem.
Don’t panic, you don’t have to have 20 good ideas, but you do need to have 20 ideas total. They could be crazy hair-brained schemes that could never work, but you need 20. Get it? We’re practicing here. Get your list going, you never know what might come out…
What’s a creative solution you’ve used to solve an impossible problem?