Facing adversity—can you make coffee?

  • Published
  • By Col. Joe Turk
  • 721st Mission Support Group commander
The spring before I entered the Air Force Academy, my parents and I met with my liaison officer to finalize the paperwork. During the meeting, the officer described basic training and the challenges I would face during my four years at the Academy. As he described how they would "break me down" to "build me back up into a second lieutenant," my mom had a concerned look on her face. After the officer left, my mom sat down with me to discuss the meeting. In her southern drawl, she said, "Honey, I want to tell you a story my daddy passed on to me."

"During the Depression, a man who was about to lose his farm sat down with his son to explain the hard times they would be facing. The old man took out three pots, filled them with water, and brought them to a hard boil. In one pot he placed a carrot and in another he gently dropped in a raw egg. In the final pot, he added a few coffee beans. After several minutes, he pulled the carrot out of the boiling water. What was once a firm vegetable was now soft and easily mashed. The old man then pulled out the egg and cracked it open. The fragile and soft egg he had placed in the boiling water was now hard--its inner composition permanently altered. As the man did this, his son looked on with a confused look. The man then had his son smell the pot that contained the coffee beans. The son remarked, 'This smells good...it reminds me of breakfast in the morning. But Daddy, I don't understand why you are showing me this.'" I had to admit, I didn't understand why my mother was telling me this story.

The old man then explained his lesson to the young boy. "Son, the carrot, the egg and the coffee beans all faced the same outside influence--the boiling water. The firm and strong carrot became soft from its time in the water. After being in the boiling water, the fragile and soft egg had its insides changed forever. However, the coffee beans took the boiling water and changed it to coffee. We are going to face hard times--don't let this adversity change you. Take the hard times and change them for the better."

But how can you face adversity and make coffee? During our last wingman day, we discussed resiliency and tools that can prepare us to deal with adversity more effectively. One of these tools was the A-T-C model. In the A-T-C model, the first step is to recognize the activating or trigger event (A). The trigger event may be a challenge, adversity or even a positive event. You then interpret the trigger event and form initial thoughts (T) on how you will respond to the activating event. When facing a challenge, most of us will initially have negative thoughts as we begin to formulate our response to the event. Based on your thoughts, you respond to the event--your response determines the consequences (C) of the event including your final emotions and reactions.

Bottom line: if you have initial negative thoughts towards the triggering event, your response will most likely be negative and there will be negative consequences. The goal of the ATC model is to build mental toughness by recognizing the typical thoughts, emotions, and reactions you have to challenging events and modifying them in a more positive direction. If you can channel your initial thoughts in a positive manner, you will experience more positive outcomes when facing adversity. You too can turn boiling water into coffee.