After attending a networking event here in Dubai a few days ago, I drove back home on the usual route during rush hour. It was your typical bumper-to-bumper frustrating experience, so I decided to slow down my thought process and pay attention to my surroundings other than the road congestion only to notice a mouse on one of the lanes looking like it froze in time as the cars drove by. What I saw next touched a deep desire in me.
The mouse’s eyes were wide open. Mouth closed. Whiskers were unmoved. Obviously, this little thing was in “DO NOT DIE” mode, and it chose to freeze instead of fight or fly. In mere seconds I immediately empathized with this animal. A connection was made. Somehow, I stepped into its shoes. We were one, for a second. My body tensed. My hands quenched the steering wheel. My eyes dilated. My God… Somebody come to the rescue!
Mice are quite the creatures; they scan their surroundings using their whiskers. But this one right here was not even scanning any longer. It just stood there. I couldn’t get my eyes off it. Mentally, I screamed for help. Who was going to rescue this guy from being run over by any of these vehicles? Everyone minded their own business. To this guy, life was happening so quickly that they couldn’t even think straight.
My breath shortened. I started praying.
In no time, a car slowly made its way toward the mouse. I held my breath. I prayed hard to God that this mouse’s life would be spared. Just when I thought life couldn’t get any harder for this innocent animal, an SUV – not any regular car – slowly squashed the mouse’s body. I witnessed the slowest squash ever. Its body looked like a sponge being squeezed. It was pretty clear that damage has been done, and nobody was coming to the rescue. The mouse still stood there. What in the world just happened? Is it alive? Is it going to do something?
No. It froze.
At that very moment, our connection started to fade. I felt deep remorse for the innocence that was tormented by life’s recurring events. All it wanted was to cross the road. It didn’t matter what the reason was. As I witnessed this experience, I made one last prayer. But while doing so I felt a fire ignite in me. This wasn’t a regular feeling. It was a divine message being instilled in me.
“I will never be this mouse again. Ever!”
The connection we had seemed to have reminded me of past events when life was tough and I waited for rescue to come. The traffic on the way home resembled life’s seemingly antagonistic challenges that pile up, and the mouse was the protagonist who was pushed into – and eventually succumbed to – the role of a victim. Everything about that mouse’s experience was a microcosm of what my life at one point looked like. I felt every second in my body despite the whole thing taking shape in less than a minute.
While tragic and sorrowful, I chose to make that event meaningful and extract learning from it. Here is what I learned:
Aptitude is about having an inherent ability. In the mouse’s case, it can survive amidst such a challenging environment. As a human being, I possess the ability to transform my attitude toward how to navigate in said environments. These experiences can be seen by the brain as a threat to life, and due to lack of training, it creates a set of behaviors that potentially act against the need to survive. This is where it is essential to learn how to change the focus from “how to not die” to “how to live”. Same meaning, different focus, and a completely new set of behaviors. The mouse, being an animal, mostly relies on survival and replication. But as humans, we can have finesse and change the way we deal with challenges as they come.
Car drivers symbolized “life moves on”. Specifically speaking, I chose to see it as “people move on”. It is natural for others to go on with their lives, and it is our tendency is simply taking the next steps forward without noticing how some steps impact the ecosystem we live and intersect in. While the drivers might look like the evil character in the story alongside the powers that be, I chose to see it as an unintended impact.
I say this because many other drivers could have spotted that mouse as I did by paying attention to such details by slowing down their thought processes. But when we are too busy getting sucked into our frustrations of life, our stress response takes over – aptitude – and our ability to take responsibility for our impact shuts down. This mouse could have been saved if – and only if – someone paid attention and possibly did something about it even though it froze in its place.
There is an expression in Arabic that goes قليل الحيلة which in English means lacking resourcefulness. That mouse displayed behavior resemblant to that. And I’ve seen myself in the past doing the very same thing simply because I honestly did not know what to do to get myself out of trouble, challenges, or problems that I may or may not have contributed to their occurrence. This very behavior put me in 6-figure debt, burdened my family, cost me key partnerships and relationships, and negatively affected my mental health. I know EXACTLY what that feels like in my soul to hurt from my inability to effectively deal with a tough situation.
I swore that I would never reach that point again in my life and that I would not back down from a challenge that I know I could overcome or that God bestowed upon me as a lesson in disguise setup for my growth. This mouse’s experience was an apparent gift that enlightened my mind about what it means to choose growth over quitting.
This part hit hard. In my career, I’ve come across potential clients and people who seek rescue when life gets hard. And I learned that the ones who wait for rescue to come are the ones who don’t see their success through. Waiting for rescue is a form of giving one’s power away. But I am a firm believer that rescue can come but isn’t always available. It’s a rare commodity. Whoever receives it is very privileged.
I for one have received rescue many times in my life. Yes, I admit that. But you know something? I did not grow from it because, despite the position of privilege I was in, I did not do much about it later on. I still chose victimhood. And that hurt my growth and success. This is why asking for help is a far better approach to handling situations, especially when one helps themselves.
To me, the fire ignited because I knew deep down that whatever help I needed was available to me first from me, and second from others. The former is a necessity, the latter is a bonus.
This lesson is golden. Challenges are not overcome by skill. This is a very linear thought process. In today’s world where the market goes through ups and downs, people come and go from our lives, and opportunities are ceased or lost, it became difficult – if not obsolete – to apply a linear thought process to overcoming challenges.
Enter “Adaptive Challenges”. These challenges require us to have both technical skills and an upgrade in attitude (mindset). A business owner making $10 million in revenue is not the same as one as that making $100 million in revenue. The same applies to life. It’s not that life is harsh; it’s that I may have not learned to evolve as a person to believe that I am resourceful enough to handle what is coming my way.
Even though life’s challenges will always be there, it is up to me to decide whether I will stay the same person or not. The beauty of life isn’t in its merits, but rather in one’s ability to seize opportunities from good and bad times. To truly experience life’s beauty is to grow and evolve. I swore that I would never go back to that version of Khaled (the mouse) who would sit in his thoughts and freeze in time while life passed him by. In some way, maybe that mouse’s experience was a blessing for me to witness; it was created to remind me that there’s only one path to take and it is forward.
What was your biggest takeaway from the mouse’s story?
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