The Story of Powie and Coatl
“Three… two… one… go!”
Powie, a monkey that participates in a swimming race, begins to flap his limbs. The dozens of fish he’s competing with zap ahead after the “Go!” signal. Swimming without fins, he has no choice but to rely on his limbs. Splash down, move limbs, goes up, take a breath; splash down, move limbs, goes up, take a breath, and on and on.
The gold medalist, a fish called Coatl, won the race in 20 seconds; Powie, on the other hand, finished it in 3 minutes 9 seconds.
After celebrating with his friends, Coatl is interviewed on how he won the race.
“I worked hard and tried my best,” he says.
“Hard work huh?” Powie thought to himself, “I guess it’s time to work harder.”
That very day, after feeling the sting of losing, Powie decided to be the greatest swimmer in the entire animal kingdom. His mother encourages him with, “it’s okay honey, that was your first tournament after all.”
He creates plans, schedules, routines; he read books and buys the latest swimming equipment. He wakes up every day at 5 AM and practice swimming for 6 hours; he spends the last 3 hours on the day in the water, refining his technique. His friends think he’s crazy—no day off, no time-wasting activities, no “having fun.”
The fire within him burns bright.
It has been exactly one year since Powie had his first swimming race experience. Unlike the previous competition, he arrives at the swimming competition feeling confident, and while preparing, he can see Coatl not far away from him.
“Coatl huh… can I win?” Thought begins to crowd his mind, but the race is starting.
“Three… two… one… go!”
Now that he has refined his swimming technique, he begins to flap his limbs in a calculated manner. His technique is so refined that he managed to swim faster than some of his fish competitor—a pretty amazing feat for a monkey.
Like last year, Coatl win the race in 19 seconds, and is still the gold medalist; Powie, 2 minutes 37 seconds. It’s better, but Powie doesn’t even sniff bronze, let alone gold.
Envy, self-doubt, and anger gushes in his mind—”am I not working hard enough? Why do I still lose after all these hard work?”
It seems unfair. The sting of losing hits him even harder, which makes him practice even harder—new techniques, new tips, new tricks, new methods, new styles, new equipments, new books. The next year, he goes into the race and loses to Coatl… again.
And again, and again, and again.
After 27 years of hard work and losing, it’s painfully self-evident to Powie that the hard work didn’t lead anywhere.
He seeks answers.
Powie pays Coatl a visit; after the chit-chat and the make-yourself-at-home treatment received from Coatl, he gets straight to business.
“Coatl, I come here as a confused monkey—I seek to understand. I’ve poured my soul into swimming for the past 27 years, yet I’ve never won any swimming race. You, on the other hand, participated in 27 swimming race and won 27 gold medals. What’s your secret?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“I’m tired. I feel like I’ve wasted my life. The frustration, envy, anger, and confusion has been bottling up inside me, and I can’t take it anymore.”
“So you want to win a swimming race?”
“Yes—I want it so badly.”
“… as a monkey?” asked Coatl, appending to his previous question.
Everything explodes all at once in Powie’s mind; for the first time in his life, he can see his own folly. He stares at the ceiling, not having anything to say.
17 minutes passed and not a single word was said—not even eye contact was made. Out of nowhere, Powie breaks the silence.
“Coatl, when you were interviewed, you said that hard work won you the race. Was that a lie?”
“Powie, you are a monkey. I’m not trying to demean you, but do you think you can beat a fish in swimming by working hard?”
“Then what should I do?”
“You are evading the question,” Coatl interjects swiftly.
“To be honest, this question makes me angry. If I answer no, that implies I’ve wasted my life; if I answer yes, I know it’s… a lie.”
“Powie, here’s what you have to understand: monkey is not made to swim. You certainly can swim—even faster than some of my fish friends, which I find quite astonishing—but at the end of the day, you’re meant for something else.”
“But I really want to win swimming races…”
“You may do so if you wish, but it’ll only lead to pain and suffering.”
“Then what is it that I’m meant to do?”
“Within you there is something unique. Something extraordinary, magical, and grand; something nobody in this animal kingdom has. For me, that “thing” happens to be swimming really fast, and thus I can effortlessly win all these swimming races. Your “thing”—whatever that is—is what you’re meant to do, and you can only find it by looking deep within yourself.”
Powie has no more words to say.
“Powie, what you need to understand has been revealed to you. You may want to ponder everything else in your own room—alone.”
After the goodbye, Powie heads back home. He doesn’t have all the answer, but at least, he now knows that he’s a monkey that has been trying to compete with fishes in a swimming race.