Once, there was a farmer, who had enough of everything, but not always much extra. She had been through many good times and many bad times, and was known for her reliability and thoughtful words. One day, a horse wandered onto her farm. It seemed content to stay there and it did not belong to any of her neighbors, so she fed it and put it to work. All of her neighbors exclaimed, “What good luck!” To which she replied, “Perhaps.”

The farmer’s son was a very spirited boy. One day, he decided he did not want to live on the farm any longer. He took the horse from the farm and began to ride briskly away. All of the farmer’s neighbors said, “What bad luck!” To which she replied, “Perhaps.”

A short distance from the village, the horse bucked the boy off and ran away. The son was brought back to the farmer with a broken leg. All of her neighbors cried, “What bad luck!” To which she replied, “Perhaps.”

The following week, the emperor’s army sent a force to collect all of the able-bodied young men and horses to fight in a war. When they came to the farmer’s home, they saw that her son had a broken leg and she had no horse, so they passed her by without another word. All of her neighbors said, “What good luck!” To which she replied only, “Perhaps.”

Adapted from a traditional Zen story.  

The holidays are here, complete with zany time commitments, pressures of annual family gatherings, high hopes and inevitable disappointments. After all, someone is bound to misbehave, or a gift will be forgotten or misunderstood, or a loved one will be experiencing their first holiday with children – or facing the season alone.

Adopting a somewhat more Zen mindset, like the farmer in this story, is a great antidote to the oh-so-common seasonal stress and turmoil. The reason this works is simple, yet profound. Free your mind from the burden of predicting what might happen next and you prevent the anxiety caused by anticipating those fictional future events. And, when you reduce your anxiety level, you can allow yourself to be fully present in the moment, enjoying your season just as it is*.

When the holidays turn into something more or less than you expected, when family throws you a curveball, when the unexpected happens despite your best efforts, when your luck seems to take a turn for the better or for the worse, consider reacting like the farmer in the story. Simply say, “Perhaps.” Rather than trying to manage what could be an impossible situation, give yourself permission to take a few breaths instead. Perhaps you can wait and see what unfolds next.


Read our 2017 holiday gatherings musing, You have the power to promote peace this holiday season.”

If tensions run a little high during the holidays for your colleagues, too, you might see some emotional eruptions in meetings. Download our Cheat Sheet to Disrupt Damaging Meeting Behaviors, to help everyone in the office – through the holidays and all year long.


*Special note to fellow perfectionists: You don’t have to perfect this technique, or even do it very well, to let the word “perhaps” make a positive difference for you during the holidays. What if your holidays become only 20% more enjoyable, or 30% less stressful? Wouldn’t that still be a great change? If so, please give yourself permission to try this mindset on for size. Perhaps it is just the thing you need to make change happen, one small, imperfect moment at a time.

Do you have a simple tip for managing stress during the holidays? Leave a comment below!

Kay Coughlin, CEO and Chief Facilitator of Facilitator On Fire, helps leaders with all five adult generations in today’s workplaces (iGen/Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X-ers and Boomers, and Traditionalists) so they can work together on teams that are higher-performing and happier.

Kay’s individual coaching program, “Jumpstart Coaching“, and “Leading Across Generations” workshops help deans and vice presidents build outstanding teams of all ages (schedule a strategy call here). Her keynote address, “Top Myths of Leading Generations,” is offered to help teams become abundantly successful, together.


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