By Michael Siervo
I have always believed that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it. Our perspective and how we handle adversity will greatly affect the quality of our life. Currently, we live in a very divisive world where both mental and physical walls are being built. Political, cultural, and social differences have created a chasm so wide that understanding, respect, and perspective will be the foundation of any effective bridge.
In business as in life, your perception is your reality and if we were to create a bridge of understanding it would begin with our own personal philosophies. These philosophies, or our own internal truths, are based on our point of view and how we perceive the world.
Most recently I spoke at the launch of the Filipino Canadian Magazine. I shared a story on how we can redefine our perception, and thus shape a different quality of life. As everyone in the world goes through their own struggles, I am always reminded of a story about overcoming adversity called “Are you a Carrot, An Egg or a Coffee Bean?” Here’s how it goes.
After a rough start to the year, a young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. School was difficult, the kids at school were mean, and she felt she didn’t belong. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. Life seemed like one problem after another. The constant fighting and struggling seemed endless.
Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water. In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and the last she placed ground coffee beans.
Without saying a word, she let them sit and boil as she continued to listen to her daughter. In about twenty minutes she turned off the stove. She took out the carrots and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in another bowl. Then she filtered the coffee into a cup. She then turned to her daughter and asked, “Tell me what you see?”
“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” the daughter replied.
The mother handed her daughter the carrots and asked her to describe them. She said that they were soft. She then asked her to take an egg and crack it on the counter. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, she asked her to take the cup and sip the coffee. With a smile, she said she tasted its rich, flavourful aroma.
The daughter asked, “What’s the point of all this?”
Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity, boiling water. However, each reacted differently when exposed to it. Initially, the carrots went in strong, hard and firm. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg initially came in fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its soft liquid interior. Over time, the boiling water changed the egg and made its insides became hardened. However, ground coffee beans were unique. While being in the boiling water, the coffee was able to change it.
“Which are you?” she asked the daughter. “When you are faced with adversity, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?”
Think of this as we approach today’s problems, drama and adversity. Am I the carrot that seems strong initially but with pain and struggle do I wilt, become soft, and lose my strength?
Am I the egg that starts with a soft heart but changes with the heat? Did I have a gentle interior, but after death, a break up, a financial hardship, or some other crisis, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff and hardened heart?
Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very situation 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 rise up, get better and change the situation around you.
At a time when life seems bleak, and the circumstances around us seem grim, do you elevate and rise above the challenge? Does the situation change you, or do you change the situation for the better?
As I ended my speech, it dawned on me that those who took the time to attend were leaders. Many were a bunch of coffee beans whether they knew it or not. There were Filipinos in the audience that illustrated courage and moved to a new country in order to better their lives. There were some who might have been inspired for the first time and hopefully not the last. Some were there to change the very stigma that has held back the profile of the community and in many ways themselves. For some (including many Non-Filipinos) the perception of Filipinos was simply of a hard working culture of friendly people. However we were comprised of students, parents, business owners, immigrants, mentors and individuals who simply wanted more. Leaders or champions were a new moniker that they were on the cusp of adapting. The belief was there. The desire was there. Most of what is needed to overcome adversity was there. Despite our best intentions and motivations, it is easy to allow negativity, hardship and the mundane issues of life bring us down. Regardless, by reminding ourselves that changing our internal truths, our belief system and ultimately our perception of ourselves, we can rise up and all brew an inspirational cup of coffee called life! Life is tough nonetheless but I walked away with the utmost confidence that we were on the path to something great. Besides, isn’t it common practice to brew a Starbucks for a little pick me up anyways?
As they say, throw us to the wolves and we will come back leading the pack. Or in this case, a couple packs of delicious coffee beans!
Originally born in Toronto, Ontario from Filipino parents, Michael experienced first hand the challenges & successes of an immigrant family. He used his experience and the hard work synonymous to Filipinos as the platform for future success. With almost 20 years of financial services and business experience, he has held positions in several Fortune 500 companies. Michael became the first visible minority in Western Canada to hold a District Vice President title for one of the largest and oldest Financial Institutions in the world. While breaking the barriers, this paved the way for a younger generation of minorities to hold Director and Vice President positions. In addition, he has been the CEO of a private conglomerate that has had ventures in Automotive, Restaurants, Financial Services, Custom Clothing & Real Estate. In addition to his many entrepreneurial projects, he also sits on the Board of Directors for the Calgary Bridge Foundation For Youths and has been a benefactor to multiple philanthropic causes including the Michael and Vivienne Siervo Scholarship Fund.