Once Upon a Cow

Once I went to the bookstore with a good friend of mine who I have known for over 2 years. We often meet up once every few months to talk about work, life and to keep each other updated of how we do.

I don’t read much and this is why I remember every single book that I have read in my life. I’m not sure if it is a good thing. My friend and I coincidentally bought the exact same book for business called: “The Blue Ocean Strategies” as both of us think it could be very useful and because we both work in business development.

Me was looking around the bookshelves again to make sure I would not miss anything. And not too far from the ‘Blue Ocean’, I found a book with bright orange-cover and there was a milk cow. It’s called: “Once Upon a Cow”. I decided to take home both the “Cow” and the “Blue Ocean”.

During the next few months, I have seen a couple of times that several people were reading the “Blue Ocean” book. I met my friend again on one beautiful day and we naturally came back to the reading topic.

“So did you read the book? The Blue Ocean Strategies?” he asked. “Well!” I replied: ” I had started with the very first pages to understand the tittle of the book and I got so bored.

But now I know it is called the “Blue Ocean” because previously in business speaking terms, they have the “Red Ocean”. They are all about market competition. However, the difference is in the “Red Ocean”, competition means ‘killing’ each other in order to survive. In contrast, in the “Blue Ocean”, we focus on their own competitive advantages, focus on our ‘piece’ of the pie when it comes to market share and everybody lives happily ever after”. “How about you?” I asked.

 “Same”. He smiled.

“But I finished the other one, “Once Upon a Cow” and actually I found this is, in fact, a must-read”, I added.

The story starts with a quotation by an author named Anthony from Seattle, Washington:

I felt like most of the failures I had experienced were the direct or indirect result of other people’s actions. I always found myself blaming my spouse, my boss, my team, my parents, or anybody else for my setbacks. To this day, I think, in some of those instances I was correct. Maybe in others, I was just making excuses to cover my own mistakes and indecisions. However, what the story of the cow taught me was that whether they were at fault or not was completely irrelevant. I can’t go through life saying, “Honest, I wanted to succeed but it’s his fault I didn’t”, or “It is her fault for not doing her part”. I think accepting 100 percent of the responsibility of our own success is one of the greatest challenges we all have. The great thing is that once you do it, you don’t have to live with the constant torment of thinking that your failures and mishaps are somebody else’s fault. -Anthony, Seattle, Washington-

And here is the Story of the Cow:

Once upon a time, a wise and experienced teacher wanted to instruct one of his pupils on the secrets to living a happy and prosperous life. Knowing of the many unnecessary hurdles and difficulties most people face in their search for happiness, he thought the first lesson should be to explain why so many people live average and ordinary lives.

After all, thought the old man, too many men and women seem incapable of overcoming the obstacles that hinder their success and end up living unfulfilled and barely tolerable lives. The teacher knew that in order for the young man to comprehend this very important lesson, he would have to witness himself what happens when we allow mediocrity to rule our lives.

To teach these important lessons,  he decided to embark on a trip with his student to one of the most impoverished villages in their province. Misery and desolation prevailed throughout the region, and its inhabitants seemed to have resigned themselves to their lot in life.

Soon after they arrived, the teacher asked the young man to help him look for the poorest home in the area. That would be their refuge for the night.

After walking for a while, they reached the outskirts of town. And there, in the middle of nowhere, the two men stopped in front of the most dilapidated little shack they had ever set eyes on.

The structure, at the point of collapse, sat on the farthest edge of a small group of homes in the countryside. It belonged, without a doubt, to the poorest of families. The walls stood as if only by miracle, threatening at any moment to come tumbling down. Water filtered through an improvised roof that looked powerless to keep anything out, and all kinds of rubbish gathered against the walls of the house, adding to its decrepit appearance.

The owner, alerted by a small child to the presence of the two strangers, came out and greeted them warmly.

“Greetings to you, my good man” replied the teacher. “Might two tired travelers find shelter in your home for the night?”

“The place is crowded, but you are welcome to stay if you don’t mind”.

When the two men stepped inside, they were shocked to see that the miniscule space, not more than 150 square feet, was home to eight people. Father, mother, four children, and two grandparents did their best to concede each other a bit of space under the very cramped conditions.

Their unkempt and painfully tin bodies and ragged clothes were clear evidence of the scarcity that defined their everyday existence. Sad faces and bowed heads left no doubt that indigence had not only taken over their bodies but also taken root deep within them.

The two visitors couldn’t help but let their eyes wader around, questioning whether there was anything of any value in the midst of such destitution. There was nothing!

But as they stepped out of the house, they found they’d been mistaken. Curiously enough, the family had a most unusual possession – quite an extraordinary one under the circumstances. They owned a cow.

The animal was not much to look at, but the family’s everyday life and activities seemed to revolve around it. “Feed the cow”. “make sure the cow’s had enough water”. “Tie the cow up tight”. “Don’t forget to take the cow to pasture”. “Milk the cow”. You could say that the cow played a prominent role within the family, although the little milk she produced was barely enough to keep them alive.

Nevertheless, the cow seemed to serve an even bigger purpose: It was the only thing keeping them from complete and utter misery. In a place where everything seemed to be scarce, having such a prized possession had gained them the respect, if not the envy, of their neighbours.

And so it was there – among the grime and disarray – that teacher and student lay down to spend the night.

The next morning, before the break of dawn, being careful not to wake anyone, the two travelers set off to continue their journey.

The student looked around as if trying to take a mental picture of the grim conditions. To be perfectly honest, he was not certain why his teacher had brought him here. However, before starting out along the road, the elderly teacher whispered: “The time has come for you to learn the lesson that brings us to this dismal place”.

During their shot visit, they had witnessed a life of almost complete abandonment, but the young man was not at all clear on the cause of this family’s dreary existence. How had they allowed themselves to get to that point? What could have kept them there?

The teacher walked slowly toward the cow, which was tied to a wobbly fencepost no more than twenty yards from the house. When they were but a step away from the animal, he slipped a dagger from the sheath he carried. The student was puzzled. When the old man suddenly raised his arm, he was shocked by the realization of what was about to happen. He watched in disbelief as the teacher sliced clear through the cow’s throat with one swift movement. The fatal wound caused the animal to drop silently to the ground.

He was in a state of complete disbelief. “What have you done, Teacher?” he said, anguished but whispering so as not to wake the family. “How could you have killed this poor animal? What kind of lesson is this that will leave this family in certain and complete ruin? This was their only possession. What is going to become of them now?”

Not at all perturbed by the young man’s distress and ignoring his queries, the teacher proceeded to leave the gruesome scene behind, apparently indifferent to the fate awaiting the poor family at the loss of their animal. Still confused, the student followed a step behind, as they resumed their journey.

And so it was that this poor family was left to face an uncertain life, full of predicaments and the possibility of even greater misery.

During the following days, the student was haunted time and again by the frightful idea of what without their cow, the family would surely starve to death. What other conclusion could he possibly draw from the loss of their only source of sustenance? In the months that followed, he was often troubled by these thoughts and by the events of that dreadful morning.

A year went by, and one afternoon the teacher suggested that they return to the small village to find out what had become of the family. The mere mention of the seemingly long-forgotten episode was enough to reawaken in the student the vivid recollections of a lesson that, even after all this them, he had not yet fully understood.

Once again his mind was swamped with thoughts about the poor family and the role he had played in their fate. What could have become of them? Did they survive the heavy blow? Were they able to start a new life? He face them after his teacher had done? In spite of these upsetting thoughts, he reluctantly accepted on a journey that would cast new light on the previous year’s disturbing episode.

After many days of traveling, the two men reached the village. The searched in vain for the house. The surroundings appeared to be the same, but the shack where they had spent the night a year earlier was no longer there. Instead, a newer and much nicer house had been erected in the same spot. They stopped and looked past the structure in all dictions to make sure that they were indeed in the right place.

The young man feared that the death of the animal had been a blow far too difficult to overcome for that simple family. Perhaps they had been forced out of their property, and a new family a bit better off on their luck had taken over their land and built this new home. What else could have happened to them? Maybe the same had forced them away.

While these thoughts raced through his mind, he waved between wanting to find out what had happened to the family and simply continuing on his way, avoiding the unpleasant task of confirming his worst suspicions. He chose to find out – the needed to know – so he knocked at the door and waited.

After a short while, a very pleasant man came to open the door. At first the student did not recognize him. He couldn’t hind the shock on his face when he realised this was the same person who had given them shelter a year earlier. This was clearly the same man, but something was very different about them. He wore clean clothes and was well groomed. He had a smile on his face and a sparkle in his eye. It was clear that something quite significant had happened in his life.

The young student could scarcely believe his eyes. How was this possible? What in the world could have happened in a year’s time? He rushed forward to greet the man and wasted no time in questioning him about the good fortune that had obviously come upon him and his family.

“Just a year ago, in our brief stopover here”, said the young man, “you seemed to be living in the most unfortunate and hopeless conditions. Please tell me what’s happened since then to change things so much. What was the cause of your good fortune?”

Ignorant of the fact that the two travelers had been responsible for the slaughter of his cow, the man invited them in and began to share an incredible story – one that would change the young man’s life forever.

He related how, coincidentally, the very day they had departed, some villain, probably envious of their scarce fortune, had savagely butchered the poor animal.

“I must confess”, said the man, “that our first reaction was one of complete desperation and anguish. For a long time, the milk from that cow was our only source of sustenance. Besides, that animal was our only possession; our lives depended on it. That cow was the centre of our everyday existence and, frankly, just owning it had given us a sense of security and earned us the respect of our neighbours.

“Shortly after that tragic day, we realised that unless we did something, we were very quickly going to go from bad to worse. We were at rock bottom without that animal. We needed to eat and feed our children. So we cleared a little patch in the dirt behind the house and planted a few seeds to grow some vegetables. That’s how we were able to survive those first months.

“After a while, we realised that the little garden was producing more food than we needed for ourselves. If we could sell the rest to our neighbours, we’d be able to buy more seed. So we did, and not long afterward, there was enough food for ourselves and plenty more to sell at the town market.

“Then it happened! Said the man almost cheerfully. “For the first time in our lives, we had some money for food and clothing. There and then we knew that there was hope for a new life, a life we had not anticipated or even dreamed possible. Last month we were able to build this small house. It’s as if the loss of our cow opened our eyes to a new and prosperous life”.

The young man was astounded by the story. Finally he understood the lesson that his bellowed teacher had meant to impart. It was suddenly obvious that the death of the cow had not, in fact, been the end of them, as he had feared, but the beginning of a new life full of better opportunities.

At the end of the story, the teacher told the student: “That’s what happens when you convince yourself that what little you have is more than enough. That thought alone becomes a heavy chain that prevents you from looking for something better. Complacency begins to rule your life. You learn to accept your circumstances in spite of being dissatisfied with them. You know you aren’t happy with where you are in life, but you aren’t completely miserable either. You’re frustrated with the life you’ve been dealt but not disturbed enough to do something about it…”

Once Upon a Cow: Eliminating Excuses and Settling for Nothing but Success - By Camilo Cruz Ph.D
Once Upon a Cow: Eliminating Excuses and Settling for Nothing but Success – By Camilo Cruz Ph.D

The moral is:

We all have cows (excuses and justifications) for not doing what we really want to do. Our comfort zone becomes the chain keeping us attached to a life of mediocrity. So find the cows and kill the cows, which is to eliminate excuses and setting for nothing but a better version of yourselves.

One thought on “Once Upon a Cow

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s