Whack-a-Mole and the Zen of the Caterpillar That Became Lunch

Tuesday was a whack-a-mole day. One thing would go wrong, I would begin to fix it, only to find something else needed fixing, too. Details with new bank accounts (have you tried opening a new business bank account lately?), an incorrect tax bill from the city where I now live and do business, hiccups with our new phone system, and myriad technical problems with the ongoing redesign and redevelopment of the APHA membership website…

Yes, whack-a-mole.

But Wednesday and Thursday, two experiences combined to give me new perspective, one I’ll share with you in hopes it will help you weather those whack-a-mole days when you need a new perspective, too.

Wednesday I encountered the following, a quote from Charlotte Joko Beck. Joko Beck was an American teacher of Zen, something I can’t claim to know much about – at all. But her words spoke to me… and helped me begin to put (what my colleague and friend Steve Okey calls) my “first-world” problems into perspective.


It has happened before in my life many times, and I am sure it has happened in yours, too. Those “guru moments” where you realize your experiences have become your teachers – where you really think about an experience, process it, and embrace it. A simple example is our abilities as human beings to learn lessons the hard way. Once burned, twice shy, and all that…

The key to making them guru moments is to embrace them, both the positive and negative, and actively learn from them. Not just a glance, or a dismissed experience – an active choice that improves our own lives, our loved one’s lives, and – for us as private care professionals – our clients’ lives, too.

So… Thursday morning I took my early morning walk, and as I rounded the corner, almost home again, I noticed the caterpillar – as seen above. THAT was the moment my perspective on all those Tuesday whack-a-mole problems changed, and where the lessons became apparent.

The caterpillar became my teacher. His demise represents how patients are treated by the healthcare system. The system is represented by those ants – just preying on that creature. Metaphorical, of course. But no less frightening and life-destroying for that caterpillar than the system can be for our clients. That is one major reason clients engage with us. They just don’t want the interface with the system to destroy them – not their health or their financial security.

Encountering that poor caterpillar and the system that consumed him was my guru moment. It motivated me to get back to my desk and back to work with more zeal than I had before my walk. Life lesson embraced! I would not let those moles I’d been whacking frustrate me further! I had important, advocacy-and-advocate support work to do.

As private, independent advocates and care professionals, the nature of our work is to encounter these healthcare system ants over and over again in both positive and negative ways. We must learn to collaborate with those ants, at their best and their worst, respecting their abilities whether we appreciate those abilities or not, because our clients do not deserve to become lunch.

What guru moments have improved your advocacy work? Care to share them below?


OK – so that’s not the same caterpillar I saw. When I went back with my camera to take a picture, those ants had polished him off and had moved on. I promise you, the scene was almost identical! But the photo above is mehmetsinap / 123RF Stock Photo

2 thoughts on “Whack-a-Mole and the Zen of the Caterpillar That Became Lunch”

  1. Your article is beautifully time. I’ve been experiencing the whack -a-mole game myself! Thank you for putting things into perspective! My clients teach me things about myself everyday and lessons I need to learn. The leaning curve can be a bit difficult at times. In my practice, I feel a bit like the show Pawn Stars, “you never know what is going to walk through that door!” Each are teachable issues, usually difficult. That is why I am in business.!
    I’m currently dealing with having to move a newly placed resident. The difficulty in this situation, I used a trusted professional for the selection of the facility. In hind sight, understanding I do not provide placement assistant services, ( here is the teachable moment) I should have been more involved in the process. I completely trusted the placement agency and relied on her expertise. FYI, I am not in anyway a control freak! I simply should have been more involved. Once I started to notice problems, I tried everything to support the facility, as my client likes it there. I didn’t want to subject my client to another move. Last night was the last straw with a very serious situation. It’s not my job to train an RCFE owner. I’m working with the family today to begin the search with a new placement assistance company. The previous one referred a couple of wonderful clients to me and I know her quite well. The family is concerned about using her again. Quite frankly, I am too. My feelings aside, I met a wonderful gal at a vendor fair two days ago, that knows of the current facility, raised an eyebrow and quickly said, “call me when you’re ready to move your client.” More than one lesson here. I’m choosing to be thankful instead of frustrated and disappointed after reading your article. Thank you!

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