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Image: A stop sign half submerged in water. Is it a good thing, or a bad thing?

Good Thing, Bad Thing, Who Knows?

This article by Srikumar Rao originally appeared in two parts on The Rao Institute.

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?”

Image: A stop sign half submerged in water. Is it a good thing, or a bad thing?
Source: Unsplash

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.

My coaching clients and alumni of my course remember this as one of the most useful lessons they learned from me.

Suffering does not begin when an event occurs. Suffering begins the instant you label that event ‘bad thing’.

Let’s say you get fired with no notice. You now have a lot of spare time. And maybe you never liked your job much anyway. It is an event.

But your mental chatter takes you places. “How will I make my mortgage payments? My kid’s college tuition is due next month. What will my partner think of me? Will I be evicted? This is BAD!”

And the moment you decide that your being fired is ‘bad’, your suffering begins.

As I pointed out in my blog, you can sidestep this by not labeling any event as a ‘bad thing.’ Ask yourself if there is any possible way in which this event could, after a few years, turn out to be a ‘good thing.’

And if you then ask yourself the next question, “What can I proactively do to make this a ‘good thing’ and can I start doing this right away?”, you will move seamlessly from the realm of despair to the realm of possibility.

This is how you become super-resilient. You never have to bounce back from adversity because you never define anything that happens to you as ‘adversity.’

Now, let’s talk about the other side.

Have you ever had a ‘good thing’ happen to you that, later, turned out to be not so good?

I remember a group of MBA students who got handsome offers from a prestigious company at the leading edge of technology in several different areas. And they got signing bonuses.

They went off on a lavish, no expense spared, vacation to celebrate.

By the time they returned, Enron had imploded. Their offers vanished. The signing bonuses did not materialize. Placement season was over and there were no more companies coming to campus to recruit. And their credit card bills, with their vacation charges, would begin to appear shortly.

There is a lesson here as well.

When something ‘good’ happens in your life, do not be exultant. Don’t start thinking about the ways in which this ‘good thing’ could eventually become a ‘bad thing.’ But do temper your rejoicing. Be pleased but not exuberant.

Use this event as a trigger to be grateful. As I explain in my blog here you should be grateful. Not grateful ‘for’ something.

Peace!

  • Srikumar

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Published: January 6, 2023

Image: Dr. Srikumar Rao

Srikumar Rao

Content Partner

Dr. Rao has helped thousands of entrepreneurs and executives worldwide achieve a quantum breakthrough in their personal and professional lives. He has helped them reach entirely new orbits of success and accomplishment. And they have done so while rediscovering joy in life and genuine unadulterated happiness.

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