Turning your Problems into Steppingstones

Zilvold Coaching & Training Blog
7 min read

Summary: We are living in busy and stressful times. That’s why we sometimes react too quickly to our troubles, problems or challenges. This article is about turning these problems into steppingstones in order to move further on.

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A Parable

Once upon a time there was a traveler who was walking late in the evening towards an inn to spend the night there. It had been a long day and he had walked quite a distance.

As it was getting dark he saw the welcoming lights of the inn which was not far away anymore. His feet were tired and he scuffed along. Suddenly, he saw a snake lying at the side of the road. He was terrified and full of fear. His heart was pounding and he did not dare to make any noise with the snake so nearby.

Since he was not able to call for help, he decided to run to the inn. He was wearing a robe which made it not easy to move fast. Luckily, he arrived quickly and safely at the inn. He slammed the door shut and was gasping for air as he entered the inn. All the other guests looked at him and a concerned innkeeper walked up to him and asked what had happened. The traveler told about the snake and how it had scared him immensely.

“Now, now, dear sir”, the innkeeper said. “We don’t have any snakes in this part of the country. You must surely have been struck by a sunstroke”. “No! It was a snake!”, the traveler said resolute. The innkeeper gave him some water and invited him to go back outside to go look for the snake.

To reassure the traveler, the innkeeper offered to bring along a stick and a lamp. They went outside and soon they were nearing the spot where the traveler had seen the snake a short while before. And surely there was something curled up at the side of the road. The innkeeper walked with confidence towards it while the traveler stayed back for safety. The innkeeper stooped, picked something from the ground and walked towards the traveler.

“Look!”, said the innkeeper, “You’ve mistaken your snake for a rope!”. Relieved, the traveler returned to the inn for a meal and a good night’s sleep.

I have adapted this story from an old Eastern parable and it teaches us a valuable lesson.

It’s about Perception

During our busy days we often mistake reality for our own ignorance. We perceive something totally different than what somebody actually does or says. Our own ignorance can be manifested by anxiety, fear or a rapid judgement. The latter is often the result of our busy life with demanding bosses, clients or family members. We then react based on our senses or emotions.


One day got an email from the secretary of the general manager of the engineering company I was working for at the time. It was an invitation to meet him in his office, first thing next morning. The subject of the email was “Continuation 9×4”. I did not quite get it what it was about so I started to dwell: “What did I do wrong?”, “Am I getting fired?”, “What does he want?”. Perhaps you recognize this feeling when it’s not clear to you why you’re being called to see your boss.

The next morning, I was pretty nervous as I entered the office. My line manager was already inside. “Oh, Oh!”, now I became really worried. “What the heck is going on?”. Both were rather casual and I was offered a cup of coffee. It turned out that they wanted to change my working hours and I would get more pay!

You see, I do worry sometimes. I could have asked myself if there was a reason of any trouble or to reflect if I actually did something wrong. Expecting something bad is like seeing a snake.

A higher Viewpoint

When you see a snake, stop, drink a glass of water and take a breath. Now think about the situation from a higher viewpoint. Imagine that you now have a lamp to shed some light on the situation.

The general manager used to be my line manager before and I had always enjoyed working with him. There was absolutely no reason to be fearful. Continue to breathe deeply and see the rope! Try to find the true cause of the fear, the trouble or the anxiety instead of worrying or reacting quickly to a situation.

The Parable continues!

I recently found out that the story continues! You see, after the innkeeper picked up the rope, he gave the rope to the traveler. They were both laughing now and they returned to the inn for a meal and a good night’s sleep. The next morning the traveler awoke.
Next to his bed was the rope lying on the floor. He got out of bed and put on his robe. Now he had a rope to put around his waist. This would prevent his robe from falling down and now he could move more easily!

Since my previous line manager now was the general manager, I didn’t see him that often because he had other responsibilities. I missed his presence, his great ability to manage projects and to come up with creative solutions. Instead of being anxious about what would come the next morning, I could also look forward to finally spend some time with him and talk, for example, about my salary!

Use the rope to go higher

If we identify our troubles more as being ropes, we realize that they are there to aid us, to strengthen us so we can move on, make sound decisions and lead our lives instead of being led. Use the rope to climb higher.

The trick is to pause and reflect before taking action. Then you can decide for yourself how to react. Chances are that, from now on, you’ll perceive your problems and troubles as steppingstones.

How do you deal with trouble, problems or challenges?? Do you see them as steppingstones or are they really terrifying you? Let me know in the comment box below. I, and other readers of this article look forward to read from you!

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