Read an Excerpt
Before The Story
Early one rainy evening in New York, Michael Brown hurried to meet someone a friend had said might help him deal with a difficult time he was having. As he entered the small café, he had no way of knowing how valuable the next few hours would be.
When he saw Ann Carr, he was surprised. He had heard she had been through some tough times herself and expected it to show on her. But she seemed upbeat and full of energy.
After some preliminary conversation, he said, "You look like you're in a good place, despite the bad times I understand you've been through."
She said, "I am in a good place, both in my work and in my life. But it's not in spite of the bad times. It's because of them and how I learned to take advantage of them."
Michael was puzzled. "How so?" he asked.
"Well, for example, at work I thought our department was doing fine, but in reality we weren't. We'd been successful, but we'd become complacent. By the time we realized it, other companies were doing much better than we were. My boss became very unhappy with me.
"That's when I started feeling low, and the pressure to improve things in a hurry began. Each day became more stressful."
Michael asked, "So, what happened?"
She answered, "I heard a story last year from someone at work I respected. It changed how I looked at good and bad times, and what I do now is very different. The story helped me to be calmer and more successful, whether things are going well or not, even in my personal life. I'll never forget it!"
"What was the story?" he asked.
Ann was quiet for a moment, and then said, "Would it be all right if I asked why you would like to know about it?"
Michael reluctantly admitted that he was not feeling very secure in his job, and things were not going so well for him at home.
He didn't need to say any more. She felt his embarrassment, and said, "You sound like you need to hear the story as much as I did."
Ann said she would tell Michael the story with the understanding that if he found it valuable, he would share it with others. He agreed, and Ann prepared Michael for what he was about to hear.
She said, "I found that if you want to use the story to deal with the ups and downs that come at you, it helps if you listen with your heart and head, and fill in the story with your own experience to see what is true for you.
"The insights in the story are often repeated, although in slightly different ways."
Michael asked "Why the repetition?"
She answered, "Well, for me, it made it easier to remember them. And when I remembered the insights, I used them more."
She admitted, "I'm reluctant to change. So, I need to hear something new often enough that, at some point, it gets past my critical, distrusting mind, becomes more familiar, and touches my heart. Then it becomes a part of me.
"That's what happened after I thought a lot about the story. But you can discover that for yourself, if you like."
"Do you really think a story can make that big a difference?" Michael asked. "I'm in a pretty tough spot right now."
Ann replied, "In that case, what do you have to lose? All I can tell you is that when I applied what I got out of the story, it had a big impact.
"Some people," she cautioned, "get very little from the story, while others get a great deal!
"It's not the story; it's what you take away from it that is so powerful. That's up to you, of course."
Michael nodded. "Okay. I think I would really like to hear it."
So Ann started to tell the tale over dinner, and then continued through dessert and coffee.
She began: Copyright © 2009 by Spencer Johnson, M.D.
Feeling Low In A Valley
Once there was a bright young man who lived unhappily in a valley, until he went to see an old man who lived on a peak. When he was younger, he had been happy in his valley. He played in its meadows and swam in its river.
The valley was all he had ever known, and he thought he would spend his whole life there.
Some days in his valley were cloudy and some were sunny, but there was a sameness to his daily routine that he found comforting.
However, as he grew older, he began to see what was wrong more often than he noticed what was right. He wondered why he had not noticed before how many things were wrong in the valley.
As time went on, the young man became increasingly unhappy, although he wasn't sure why.
He tried working at different jobs in the valley, but none turned out to be what he had hoped for.
In one job, his boss always seemed to criticize him for what he did wrong and never noticed all the things he did right.
In another, he was one of so many employees that it didn't seem to matter to anyone whether he worked hard or hardly worked at all. His contribution seemed invisible, even to himself.
Once, he thought he had finally found what he wanted. He felt appreciated and challenged, he worked with capable colleagues, and he was proud of the company's product. He worked his way up and became manager of a small department.
Unfortunately, he felt his job was not secure.
His personal life was no better. One disappointment seemed to follow another.
He thought his friends didn't understand, and his family told him he was "just going through a phase."
The young man wondered if he would be better off someplace else.
Sometimes the young man would stand in the meadow and look up at the range of majestic peaks that rose high above his valley.
He would imagine himself standing on the nearby peak.
For a while, he felt better.
But the more he compared the peak to his valley, the worse he felt.
He spoke to his parents and friends about going to the peak. But they talked only about how difficult it was to reach the peak, and how comfortable it was to stay in the valley.
They all discouraged him from going where they themselves had never been.
The young man loved his parents and knew there was some truth to what they said. But he also knew that he was a different person from his father and mother.
Sometimes he felt there might be a different way of life outside the valley, and he wanted to discover it for himself. Maybe on the peak he could gain a better view of the world.
But then doubt and fear crept in again, and he thought he would stay where he was.
For a long time the young man could not bring himself to leave his valley.
Then one day, he recalled his early youth and realized how much had changed since then. He was no longer at peace with himself.
He wasn't sure why he changed his mind, but he suddenly decided he had to go visit that mountaintop.
He put his fear aside and got ready to leave as quickly as he could. Then, he set out for the nearby peak.
It was not an easy journey. It took him much longer than he thought it would to make it less than halfway up the peak.
But as the young man went higher, the cool breeze and fresh air revitalized him. From higher up, his valley looked smaller.
When he had been down in the valley, the air seemed clean enough. But when he viewed the valley from above, he saw the pale brown stagnant air that was trapped there.
Then he turned and continued upward. The higher he climbed, the more he could see.
Suddenly, the trail he was following ended.
With no trail to follow, he became lost among the thick trees that blocked out the light. He feared he would not find his way out.
So, he decided to cross a dangerously narrow ridge. As he did, he fell. Bruised and bleeding, he picked himself up and continued on.
Eventually, he found a new path.
The warnings of the people in the valley crossed his mind. But then he gathered his courage and kept climbing.
The higher he went, the happier he became, knowing that he was leaving the valley and putting aside his fears.
He was on his way to someplace new.
As he rose above the clouds, he realized it was a beautiful day and imagined how the sunset would look from the summit. He could hardly wait to see it from up there. Copyright © 2009 by Spencer Johnson, M.D.