I recently read an old story, “Carrot, Egg, or Coffee Bean,” by an anonymous author.

It has been on the internet for years, but somehow it escaped me until now. It is the story of a young woman who went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. It seemed that as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

The young woman did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each one on a high fire. Soon the pots came to a 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, “What do you see?”

“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” the young woman replied.

Her mother asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. Then her mother asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, her mother asked her to sip the coffee.

The young woman smiled as she tasted its rich flavor; then she asked, “So, what does this have to do with my problems, mother?” Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity—boiling water—but each had reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting; after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile; after sitting in boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans, however, were unique: they had changed the water.

“Which are you?” the mother asked her daughter.

This is obviously a story about making choices.

Will we choose to be like the carrot and the egg: passively affected by adversity? Or, will we be like the coffee beans: actively turning adversity into something positive? There are many situations and circumstances in life over which we have little control: the weather, the economy, illness, loved ones, the behavior of business associates, and the choices they make. However, in every situation we do have control over one thing: how we handle that situation.

This simple truth is not always easy to understand or to put into practice; but knowing that we have choices in every situation can have wonderful benefits: living with greater intention and a commitment to a clear vision of our ideal life and business.