HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED, as I did recently, what determines the seemingly random pattern of tree branches?
A case of “every which way,” it appears. One branch projects confidently toward the sky—another launches tentatively in one direction, suddenly adopting a new trajectory.
A life is the same.
I know this, because I can see my own life in these branches. That little ragged outgrowth that goes nowhere? That’s a girl I dated in high school. The long, straight branch which stops suddenly? An office job I once had. The fat branch with many small off-shoots? My writing career. The trunk? That represents my upbringing: the formative experiences which established my values, outlook, and dreams.
To this day, my trunk is nourishing the new branches which sprout in my life.
I noticed that there are a lot of dead-ends on a tree: but look at those branches, and you’ll see many outgrowths. Again, I think of the times I’ve come to the end of a path. Maybe it was a goal I didn’t reach, or a job I didn’t get.
When you’re standing at the end of a path you thought and hoped would go farther, you only see losses and failures—the job you didn’t get, the money you won’t make, and the things you won’t be able to do and have because you won’t get that paycheque.
Looking back, you can see that those endings are in fact launching points, like new shoots from a branch. My first business, which I created in high school, was the result of having the doors to gainful employment shut in my face. Within a month, I had more business than I could manage. I made more money and was far happier than I would have been in a job, but I felt depressed and defeated all the same when my plan to be hired by someone else didn’t work out.
What I learned by looking at trees is that you can reverse engineer the process, applying it to your future. You can look forward as well as back. Today I see “dead-ends” and “failures” as intrinsic to the organic process of creating a path of your own.
A tree is the sum total of its experiments in reaching the light, and rarely (if ever) is this effort a straight line from vision to reality. We humans, however, seem to be addicted to the idea that life works (or at least should work) as follows:
Aspirations ———> A Well-Laid Plan ———> Goal Achieved!
I know this kind of thinking has often been applied by me. Many times, I’ve been disappointed and discouraged because I haven’t been able to draw, and then pursue, a straight line from Point A to Point B. Even when I’ve “known” life is more complicated than that, I’ve act as if it weren’t.
The prime directive of a tree is to reach the life-giving light. All that apparently crazy, here-there-and-everywhere is in service of the tree’s need for sun. And that’s why I’ve changed my thinking, as well as my way of creating a path.
You see, the tree is on to something—and I think I know what it is.
I’m not talking about creating 10 new businesses or launching 50 new projects. I’m not suggesting you should run, willy-nilly, in every direction. That’s certainly not why I do. Instead, I focus on activating as many potential trajectories in my life as I can, by nourishing relationships in my life and business. Just as the prime directive of a tree is to reach the life-giving light, my prime directive is to nurture my community, every day.
The second thing I do is to introduce as much variety into my life as I can. I take long showers. I go for walks in the woods. I meet with, and talk to, as many interesting people as I can. When I really need to be productive, I get away from my desk.
Because here is the worst way I’ve found to be productive:
Sit at Computer ———> Work Eight Hours ———> Get Results
And yet that’s still how we see work, as a linear process.
The fact is that we are addicted to straight lines and old ways of doing things. I know how hard it is to let go. I’ve made painful adjustments. I used to believe in things like:
Go to School ———> Get An Education ———> Work Hard ———> Succeed
Get an Agent ———> Find a Publisher ———> Write Books ———> Make Money
Get Hired by a Newspaper ———> File Stories ———> Get Paid ———> Retire
None of these things have worked out as advertised. I’ve only been miserable and unfulfilled pursuing them. It took a painful adjustment, and months of study and effort, to let go of the old ways of thinking. And that was after years of emotional work, gradually getting to the place where I could admit that what I was doing wasn’t working—and would never work.
Going in a new direction is hard. You may have a decade invested in that branch of yours. It may be the favourite branch on your tree. Maybe it’s the only branch. You probably imagined it soaring one day above the canopy, into the full and glorious life-affirming sun of a new day. But what if it doesn’t?
If you build your life on the principle of abundance, each day nurturing a wide network of relationships, being open to many possibilities—sending out many branches—you’ll never have this problem. You’ll soon realize that your life is, like a tree, the sum total of its trajectories, explorations, and so-called “dead-ends.”
A tree, like a life, is nothing less than the sum of its experiments.