A colleague shared a story with me recently that has moved to the top of my favorite story list. Decades ago when the English colonized India they missed their game of golf so much they built a golf course in Calcutta. At the time, they didn’t realize that the biggest issue would be monkeys. The monkeys loved taking the balls and throwing them all around. Of course this infuriated the golfers. They devised a plan to build a wall to keep the monkeys out, but it didn’t work. Monkeys can climb! Then they tried to lure the monkeys away from the course, yet that didn’t work. The humans were too much fun to mess with! Their third attempt was to try and trap the monkeys and take them away, but there were too many monkeys and more kept coming. Finally they came up with a brilliant plan … PLAY THE BALL WHEREVER A MONKEY DROPS IT. That was the game changer. They changed their mindset from blaming their bad luck on the monkeys, and getting angry at what they’d been handed, to accepting to do the best they could regardless.
I know you already see the lessons coming. It doesn’t matter what is happening, what matters is how we respond. Life and work are unpredictable, often random and may seem unfair. Just because we show up, do our job, act friendly to our co-workers, pay our bills and take pride in our work, things don’t always go as planned. The Calcutta monkeys sometimes threw the balls in the rough. Other times they dropped them right in the middle of the green and the golfers just had to tap it in. Amazing good luck happened as well as bad luck and misfortune.
The biggest take away I got from this story is that the sooner we accept the fact that we are not in charge, the sooner we can move ahead to finish the game with calm, grace and wisdom. I am often told by those who know me and love me to “be still.” Taking time to cultivate optimism and finding ways to move forward with the ability to be successful is important.
Some fascinating science helps us with this. According to Daniel Gilbert, we have an impact bias, meaning the tendency to overestimate the hedonic impact of future events. This means that a devastating accident can decrease our happiness but not as long or as impactful as we think. We bounce back to our set point. The same goes for amazing luck like winning the lottery. We have a boost in happiness for a while and then we go back to what it was. This is helpful because we can synthesize happiness. We can adapt to unforeseen realities both positive and negative. So don’t fret! Be willing to play the ball where the monkey drops it.
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