I once heard a joke about a psychologist who worked with young children to see if traits of optimism and pessimism were hardwired from childhood. One day, the psychologist took her patient, Susie, into a room full of horse manure and left her in there to see how she would react. Observing her via the camera that had been installed in the ceiling, the psychologist was stunned to see Susie gleefully digging through the piles of poop with a huge smile on her face. Not being able to wait any longer, the psychologist opened the door to the room, interrupting Susie mid-dig. “Susie, what on earth are you doing?” With a huge grin on her face, Susie responded, “With all this poop, there must be a pony somewhere!”
I’ve always loved that joke, and it’s actually become a bit of a mainstay for me when I’m facing tough situations. I once told my team that our job was to “find the pony” when we were going through a difficult time. We used that as a touchstone phrase to maintain perspective while we were dealing with the issues at hand. Now, I’m not being glib about hard times, and I’m not diminishing the fact that we will all face down some really hard stuff in our lives. However, I do think that remembering to “find the pony in the poop” can add a dimension to the experience that perhaps offers us an additional perspective. It doesn’t make the bad stuff easier, but it does serve as a reminder that — at some point — perhaps there is also something useful or even positive that can be learned or that can come from the situation.
I also love this story as a metaphor because it’s not about shoveling out all of the poop and then wiping down, sanitizing, and disinfecting the entire room once it’s completely poop-free BEFORE you can find the pony. Nope! It’s about finding the pony IN the poop. For me, this creates more ease because I’m relieved of the pressure to do all the poop-cleaning work first before getting to find the pony. Now, I’m assuming that eventually there would be some work done to remove the pony from the poop-room, give it a great bath, and then clean yourself off and begin to enjoy the experience more fully.
However, it doesn’t always work that way in the real world- there’s just not always time to tidy everything up and handle all the loose ends and do all the cleaning and resolving before we get to enjoy the ponies that are present for us.
Next time you find yourself in a (hopefully proverbial only) room full of poop – ask yourself where the pony might be, but don’t feel like you need to do the haz-mat clean up first before you can begin to enjoy it. Sometimes the pony and the poop co-exist for us. Remind yourself it’s ok for both to be present, and just because there’s poop, it doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the pony.