Are you a bull, a turtle or a swan? How to get by in difficult times

Swan in difficult times

Be the Swan!

Have you heard the story of the carrot, the egg and the coffee bean? It is a story of a mother teaching her daughter a lesson on the difficulties of life by putting three pots of boiling water on the stove and in each one a carrot, an egg and a coffee bean. After boiling the pots for about half an hour, the mother asks the daughter to examine each one. The carrot, once hard and strong, was weak and soft. The egg, once fragile, was hard and unbreakable. The coffee bean had created coffee. The moral of the story is: when things get difficult or arduous, do you turn soft and weak or hard and unbreakable? Or do you influence the environment around you to create something new? The choice is yours.

The last week has been personally challenging for me, and I have been very much focusing on being the coffee bean – influencing events and creating opportunities. I have been trying to make coffee. I’m just not sure it’s that tasty…

Which got me thinking about another metaphor that reflects where I am lately and you might resonate with more. It involves animals, and how THEY respond to adversity and is inspired by the book The Third Space by Dr Adam Fraser. He discusses the different types of energy we have during our day: Tiger, Sloth and Swan.

My metaphor is about bulls, turtles and swans.

  • Bulls rage and charge at anything, no matter what the circumstances – whether it be a real danger or just an unfortunate hiker wearing a red t-shirt.
  • Turtles pull their heads into their shells at the slightest sign of danger.
  • And swans, beautiful, graceful swans, look elegant in all situations. Their energy is just wonderful. They gracefully step into the water and glide away from anything they do not like, and they attack when they think their young are in danger. They are able to move so well between the bull and the turtle.

How have you been going in difficult times lately?

I know I can be a bit of a turtle. I tend to withdraw and come out every now and then and charge like a bull, often looking quite unreasonable and erratic. Because the turtle processes everything inside, not sharing with others, so when the bull takes over, there is no context. You can just imagine how scary it would be to watch a scared little turtle with its head tucked into its shell turn into a giant, angry bull!

How to be the swan

Dr Fraser talks about the importance of transitioning from one space to the other, being present and focusing on what went well. He talks about the importance of stillness and being present. And it can all be done in less than five minutes! Yes, no need to reach a deep state of meditation for an hour. It’s just a matter of taking a few moments whenever you can to be present, still and grateful. A trainer of mine once challenged us to take any negative situation and ask “What’s great about this?” or “What COULD be great about this?”

It might only be for a few moments – the importance is to practice regularly. Because, like anything, with repetition becomes mastery. Can you imagine how cool this would be if you mastered the ability to be still, present and grateful at any moment? Not only would it help to get through your day, but when difficult times come (and they will), you will be so ready. I’m up for giving it a go, are you?

How easy is it for you to the swan? How do you think being still, present and grateful will help?


  1. […] we choose to surround ourselves with. So, while we are in the process of ensuring we are the “swan” during difficult times, and practicing gratitude, through meditation and mindfulness, it is […]