Donkey in the Well

One day, a farmer’s donkey fell down into an abandoned well. The animal cried piteously for help.

The farmer assessed the situation and decided that the donkey was too old, and it just wasn’t worthwhile to  save the donkey. Secretly he was happy about getting rid of the old donkey in this way. He invited all his neighbors and convinced them to help him cover the well. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well.

At first, the donkey cried horribly. Then he quieted down as if he had accepted it.

Under a strong sense of guilt, the farmer just wanted to get it over. So he urged his neighbors to hurry up with the work and shovel loads of dirt into the well as quickly as they could. Meanwhile, the farmer couldn’t help thinking of all the benefits of getting rid of the old donkey. “Fabulous! I won’t need to pay his medical expenses, his sick days, and his pension.”DonkeyInTheWell

A while later, they gathered to look down the well. They were astonished at what they saw. With each shovel of dirt that hit on his back, the donkey was shaking it off and took a step up. As the farmer’s neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, pretty soon, the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and happily trotted off!

The moral of this story is that life is going to shovel dirt on you, all kinds of dirt;  what you can do is to be positive! Shake it off and take a step up.

A few years ago, I changed my career from technical consulting to project management. I received my very first project that apparently nobody else wanted it. My colleague came over to ask me kindly, “Have you taken the training on how to deal with difficult people? Get ready to meet the queens of complaints.”

Yes, the two key stakeholders of my project were two mid-age female directors who were famous for nitpicking and criticizing. And my project was to automate the areas they were in charge of and potentially put their jobs in danger. So they had a prefect reason to hate me and refuse to cooperate on the project. And they did.

Thanks to the technologies,  I didn’t need to meet them face to face all the time, but we talked over teleconference at least twice a week. Either way, I felt that they were highly capable of beating me to death just by talking.

Every meeting was overwhelming. Sometimes during the meeting, I had to pull off my headset and breath using the breathing technique I was trained to use in labor to help me cool down. Then I went back to the meeting. If I couldn’t be calm and still, I would pretend to be.

In the next few months, my work was filled with issues, concerns, arguments and escalations.  I was in hot water throughout the time. I kept on reminding myself of an old Chinese adage: “A dead pig is not afraid of hot water.”  (Or a dead mouse feels no cold.)   It means a person who has already been executed will fear nothing.

Every day I put on my perfect “dead pig’s attitude.” Nothing could get on my nerves. Pins and needles wouldn’t trigger any negative feeling on me so that I could focus on moving forward.

In the end, I survived and my project succeeded. After all work had been done, I didn’t need to talk to my “queens” as frequently as before. Surprisingly, I started missing them. Deep down in my heart, I know I’d need to thank them. PMP certification did not make me a project manager, but they did.

Have you ever had the experience of the donkey in the well?  There are times in your life when it seems all the doors and windows are closed,  you are that donkey being trapped and feeling as if life is trying to bury you.

In such a moment, ask yourself, “Am I as positive as the old donkey?” and “Am I as calm as a dead pig?”

A positive attitude can keep you strong on your way to overcome your challenges one at a time until you lift yourself up to a brand new open door.