Good Thing, Bad Thing, Who Knows?

I have been teaching my course, Creativity and Personal Mastery, for close on three decades and many of my earliest students are still in touch with me and are part of the alumni community.

I ask them what they found particularly helpful in life and what they remembered from the time they took the course.

Many mention “Good Thing, Bad Thing, Who Knows?”.

This is a parable I created from an ancient Sufi tale.

A man and his teenage son lived in a beautiful valley. They were very happy, but they were also dirt-poor, and the man got tired of living in poverty.

He decided to go entrepreneurial and become rich by breeding horses.

He borrowed heavily from his neighbors and bought a stallion. He kept it in a paddock and, the very day he bought it, the stallion kicked the top bar loose and vanished.

The neighbors flocked around to commiserate. “You were going to become a rich man,” they said. “But now your stallion has run away, and you still owe us money. How sad.”

And there may have been some schadenfreude in their sympathy.

The man shrugged his shoulders and said, “Good thing, bad thing, who knows?”

The stallion fell in with a bunch of wild horses and the man spied them in a valley close by. He was able to entice them into his paddock, which he had repaired. So he now had his stallion back plus a dozen horses. That made him a rich man by the standards of that village.

The neighbors clustered around again and there was a tinge of envy as they congratulated him. “We thought you were destitute, but Fortune has smiled on you,” they said. “You are already a rich man.”

The man shrugged his shoulders and said, “Good thing, bad thing, who knows?”

The man and his son started to break the horses so they could sell them. One of them threw the man’s son and stomped on his leg. It broke and healed crooked.

Again, the neighbors came. “He was such a fine young lad,” they said. “Now he will never be able to find a girl to marry.”

The man shrugged his shoulders and said, “Good thing, bad thing, who knows?”

And that very summer the king of the country declared war on a neighboring country and press gangs moved through the villages rounding up all the able-bodied young men to serve in his army. They spared the man’s son because he had a game leg.

There were tears in their eyes as the neighbors lamented, “We don’t know if we will ever see our sons again. You are so fortunate — you still have your son with you.”

The man shrugged his shoulders and said, “Good thing, bad thing, who knows?”

And it goes on like that forever.

There is a lesson here for you and it is especially powerful if you are an entrepreneur.

Go back in your life. Has anything happened to you that, at the time it happened, you thought was a ‘bad thing’? But, looking back at it today, you can clearly see that it was not so bad and, perhaps, was even a ‘good thing?’

Most people can recall many such instances.

So, is it possible that what you are today about to label a ‘bad thing’ could, at some point in the future, turn out to have been a ‘good thing?’

If so, then why be in a hurry to label it ‘bad?’

Just asking yourself the question “Is there any possible way in which this could actually turn out to be ‘good’?” takes you to a realm of possibility.

And if you take the next step and ask, “What can I do to make this happen?” you will find avenues opening up that you may never have conceived before.

This works in both your personal life and your professional life.

Pam Pearson is a Certified Financial Planner with American Portfolios in New York. Her father was a senior executive at AT&T. Smart and fiercely independent with an inquisitive mind he was playing squash into his eighties and taking lessons in Hebrew, Latin and Ancient Greek.

But then he suffered a stroke and Pam had to gently ease him into a different lifestyle where he was dependent on caregivers. She had to take away his car keys and it was not easy.

She visited him regularly. “Instead of ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ I had Wednesdays with Dad,” she recalls laughing.

Giving up one day a week is no small matter for someone in independent practice. But she did develop patience and empathy.

Shortly thereafter, one of her clients referred her to his elderly father. The father was losing his memory and his affairs were a mess. And he was both proud and irascible. Over many meetings Pam won his confidence, and he entrusted his considerable estate to her.

“I would never have been able to pull this off if I had not gone through what I did with my dad,” she says simply.

So when something happens in your life and you are about to decide it is ‘bad’, step back.

Pause.

Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. You will not know for years, possibly decades.

Why not actively see how it could actually be ‘good?’

This attitude will stand you in very good stead.

There is more to this story, and I will tell you about it next week.

Peace!

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Srikumar S Rao

Srikumar Rao is the author of “Are You Ready to Succeed?” and creator of the celebrated MBA course, “Creativity & Personal Mastery.” // theraoinstitute.com