The Story of the Carrot, the Egg, and the Coffee Bean

By: Tim Elmore

A young girl went to her grandmother and complained about how hard life had become for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed that, as one problem was solved, a new one arose. 


Her grandmother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on the stove. Soon the pots came to a boil. 

  • In the first, she placed carrots.
  • In the second, she placed eggs. 
  • In the last, she placed ground coffee beans.


She let them sit and boil, without saying a word. In about twenty minutes, she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a mug. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a mug. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a mug. Turning to her granddaughter, she asked, “Tell me, what do you see?”


“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” the young girl replied. The grandmother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noticed they were soft. She then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee. The granddaughter smiled as she smelled its rich aroma and tasted its rich flavor. The granddaughter then asked, “What does it mean, grandmother?”


What Carrots, Eggs and Coffee Reveal About Us

Her grandmother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity—boiling water—but each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But, after sitting through the boiling water, it became hardened inside.


The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.


“Which are you?” the grandmother asked her granddaughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?”


Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong but, with pain and adversity, do I wilt, become soft, and lose my strength? Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit but, after a hardship, a breakup, or some harsh criticism, does my shell look the same, yet on the inside am I bitter, with a stiff spirit and a hardened heart?


Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the bean’s fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, do you get better and change the situation around you? When the hours are darkest and trials are their hottest, do you elevate to another level?


Events, Responses and Outcomes 

How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean? This is based on the Success Principle of Jack Canfield and a psychological theory developed years ago:

E (Event) + R (Response) = O (Outcome)


Viktor Frankl laid the foundation for this equation, in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning. After surviving a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, Frankl concluded that people possess both primary and secondary control in life. Primary represents the control we have over our actions. Secondary represents our choice to respond to situations that are not in our control. Did you catch that? We cannot control the events that occur in our lives, but we can control our response to them. 


Finding meaning in adversity actually transforms us. Frankl teaches us to manage failure or hardship (without quitting) by finding purpose in it which ultimately leads to success. All of us get into “hot water.” That’s when we know what we’re made of:

  • E = Boiling water
  • R = Response of the carrot, the egg and the coffee bean
  • O = Boiling water changes the object, or the object changes the boiling water. 


Boiling water + Carrot = The event changed the carrot to become weak and soft. 

Boiling water + Egg = The event changed the egg to become hardened inside.

Boiling water + Coffee bean = The response changed the event (water). It had purpose. 


This is the part I love the most. When the coffee was introduced to the “hot water,” both changed. The coffee clearly changed the boiling water—it got flavorful and smelled marvelous. It actually provided a purpose. Tens of millions of people enjoy it each day. In all honesty, however, the water changed the coffee grounds as well. The beans became more useful. Adversity will change us, but it can change us for the better if we choose the right response. 


What do you do when you get into hot water?


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The Story of the Carrot, the Egg, and the Coffee Bean