Human beings are the only living things that can’t naturally grow to their greatest potential. Think about it – trees grow as tall and wide as they possibly can and flowers produce the largest bloom that they can manage. Without outside interference, most plants and animals grow into the best version of themselves naturally. But we humans, on the other hand, require more to get there because we also need self-actualization to reach fulfillment. To consider ourselves successful, simply growing up physically is not enough. We desire to expand our minds and shape the world around us to make it better in some way.

In Jon Gordon’s book, “The Coffee Bean”, he tells a story of a young man who is filled with stress and fear as he deals with his daily circumstances. Abe, the young man, lets his environment negatively affect him; he becomes entirely subject to it. A mentor engages with Abe to help him grow as a person, and the story explores three scenarios of what can happen when humans and their environment interact. 

In every scenario, there’s a pot of boiling water – that’s the environment.

In the first scenario, a carrot is placed and left in the boiling water for an hour. The carrot becomes soft and easily broken, like many people who become broken by a challenging environment. The carrot is completely subject to the whims of the boiling water, and doesn’t have any effect on its surroundings.

In the second scenario, an egg is placed and left in the boiling water for an hour. It becomes hard-boiled, like people who become mean and angry because of their environment. Like the carrot, the egg doesn’t do anything to influence its environment; it doesn’t self-actualize or affect the boiling water in any meaningful way.

In the third and last scenario, a coffee bean is placed into the same boiling water for the same amount of time. When boiled, it infuses the water with its wonderful taste. Unlike the carrot or the egg, the coffee bean influences the environment in which it was placed. It has a positive impact on its surroundings and becomes something more than what it was outside of the pot. Instead of giving in to the environment or fighting against it, the coffee bean takes it in and uses it to make something useful (and delicious).

The takeaway is that each of us should seek to grow and positively change the world around us. We should be asking ourselves how we are influencing our environment and how our environment is influencing us. That way, we can grow to our maximum potential and influence others around us to grow in the same way.