One of my students – call him Jeff – came to me with a problem.
He was not the only one who mentioned this particular problem to me. Many others faced different variations of it.
Jeff was a senior executive with high standards. He was known to be demanding and subordinates were wary of his temper. He was aggressive and smart and hungry to get ahead and make a mark on the world.
A couple of years after taking my course – Creativity and Personal Mastery (CPM) – he told me that his career had stalled. Getting ahead in a corporate hierarchy no longer interested him. He was now known for his even temper and felt that his subordinates were taking advantage of him and producing slipshod work because they no longer feared him. He wasn’t sure what he should do. He would have resigned but he needed the income for the lifestyle he had, and his children were young.
That reminded me of a tale told by sages in India. Both Sri Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharshi used variations of this story to make a point. Here is my version.
A snake lived by the outskirts of a village and would bite persons who traversed the road that led to it. The villagers were scared, and commerce suffered. They narrated their tale of woe to a wandering sadhu. This sadhu could communicate with animals and advised the snake to give up its habits and stop biting travelers. He also taught the snake to meditate.
The snake gave up its old ways and no longer troubled passersby. The locals quickly perceived the change and started throwing stones at the snake and would try to capture it. One of them managed to grab it by the tail and swung it at a rock. It was severely injured.
When the sadhu returned in a few weeks the snake complained to him about the problem his advice had created for it. The sadhu told the snake, “I told you not to bite people. I did not tell you not to hiss at them. You can be angry on the outside but still calm inside.”
The snake began to hiss at persons who came near and that was enough to persuade them of the danger it posed, and they stayed away.
Jeff was smart. He immediately picked up on the implications of the tale and also its ramifications. He started ‘blowing his stack’ again but was always composed inwardly. He put in for promotion and campaigned vigorously for it. He did want it, but he was also OK with not getting it. He was just going to do his darndest because that was his path in life, and he was determined to enjoy the journey. Whatever transpired was fine with him.
His stalled career revived and then rocketed.
Ponder this tale and what it can mean to you.