Walking through the park a few weeks back, I came across a painter who was hard at work on a landscape. I was fascinated. She was so focused, she didn’t even realize I was there. As I watched, I started to see the rhythm of her process. First, she worked furiously on one part of the panting. No hesitation with the brush. But then, every so often, she would take a step back. She paused to survey the entire canvas. Then she would go back to work. The cycle of zooming in and panning out continued for as long as a watched. It’s like she couldn’t make sense of what she had just painted, until she saw it in the context of the whole painting.
The experience reminded me of story I often share with my clients, called “We’ll See.” I would give it proper attribution, but it’s one of those stories that has been around for so long its origins are lost. So here it is:
Once upon a time there was an old farmer in a far off land who worked his little farm with one old broken down horse to pull the plow through the fields. One day the horse finally dropped dead.
The townspeople gathered around the farmer and said, “How terrible! Your one horse is dead! How will you ever be able to harvest your crops?”
To that the farmer simply smiled and responded, “We’ll see.”
The townspeople banded together and got the farmer a new horse. When they presented it to him, the said “Aren’t you so pleased? Now you can finish your harvest!”
The farmer thanked them and replied “We’ll see.” The next week, the new horse broke through the fence and ran away.
The townspeople said “Oh no! How awful! You seem to have such terrible luck.”
Again the farmer replied with “We’ll see.”
The next week the horse returned to the farm accompanied by three wild horses. “How fortunate! You now have four horses to help you with your work!”
“We’ll see,” was the farmer’s calm reply.
The next week, as his son was trying to break one of the new horses, he was bucked off and broke both of his legs. On cue, the villagers said, “How dreadful! Your son is useless to you for this planting season! Whatever will you do?”
Without missing a beat, the farmer replied with his usual, “We’ll see.”
A few days later, officers from the Army came to the village, conscripting all the young men to fight in the approaching war. Because of his injuries, the farmer’s son was not taken. “You are so lucky!” said the townspeople.
And the farmer responded “We’ll see.”
The farmer, like the painter in the park, had learned the lesson of not jumping too far ahead—of recognizing that in the moment, we can’t always see the big picture. That if we get too caught up in the high or low emotions, we get swept away.
I often refer to the “We’ll see” story with my clients when we are trying to make sense of something that has happened. It’s become a kind of short hand where they will project the worst case scenario and I’ll respond with a calm smile and the words “We’ll see.” They calm.
Try it for yourself.