Jeremy Statton

Living Better Stories

How Tall of a Tree are You?

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I recently read Outliers (affiliate link) by Malcolm Gladwell. The book is about how some stand out beyond all others.

In the first section he uses a forest and tall trees as a metaphor:

Biologists often talk about the “ecology” of an organism: the tallest oak in the forest is not the tallest just because it grew from the hardiest acorn; it is the tallest also because no other trees blocked its sunlight, the soil around it was deep and rich, no rabbit chewed through its bark as a sapling, and no lumberjack cut it down before it matured. We all know that successful people come from hardy seeds. But do we know enough about the sunlight that warmed them, the soil in which they put down the roots, and the rabbits and lumberjacks they were lucky enough to avoid?

His point is simple. That the tallest tree becomes so for multiple different reasons. The tallest trees are the successful people in the world. The people who accomplish. And these people become who they are for multiple reasons. Some within their control and some not.

When I read his words about trees I couldn’t stop asking myself, “Am I one of the tallest trees in the forest?

The Ridiculous Trees

I recently ate dinner with the president of my hospital. He was telling me about bumping into a surgeon that morning. The man wasn’t happy. He was frowning. He had a long list of complaints about his day. Like Eeyore, he was drowning in gloom.

The administrator was taken aback. Maybe the day wasn’t awesome. Maybe it wasn’t easy. There were problems to solve. The day brought with it unique frustrations.

But was it really that bad?

Sometimes when we stop and look at all the trees surrounding us, and then look at ourselves, we don’t feel very tall. When we look up, all we can see are  other trees reaching for the sky.

The kind of trees with more money. The kinds of trees that don’t seem to have to work very hard. The kinds of trees that went to a better school. The kinds of trees that actually understand Calculus. The kind of trees that can eat at McDonald’s and keep their body fat below 5%.

These kinds of trees are ridiculous.

I am not Tall Enough

When looking around himself, all the surgeon could see were taller trees. All he could see was the ridiculous trees with more. Trees with more stuff. Trees doing what he wished he was doing. Trees without problems. And the man wasn’t happy.

Most of us, when looking at the surgeon, would wonder what his deal is. To us, he is an incredibly tall tree. He is obviously smart. He certainly get paid well for his work. He is a professional that many respect simply because of his role. Why was this many unhappy?

Anthony DeMello suggests an answer in his book The Way to Love (affiliate link):

The reason why you are unhappy is because you are focusing on what you do not have rather than on what you have right now.

Like most of us, this surgeon found a taller tree than him. And then he wanted more.

He blinded to his own tallness. He was so busy looking at what he considered to be taller trees, he couldn’t see the shorter ones below him. He couldn’t see the trees that were struggling. He couldn’t see the trees with bigger problems than his.

He was so busy looking up, wanting something different, he couldn’t enjoy what he already had.

Incredible Trees Make Other Trees Taller

I write about this man not to pick at him, but because I believe most of us are like him. We have to some degree a bit of tallness in us. But sometimes we struggle to see what who we really are.

And if we struggle to see it, it is because we are looking at the wrong things. If we were to take the time or the energy or the risk, we could see that we are all surrounded by much shorter trees. In fact, we are the 1 percent.

Circumstances are circumstances. Bad days happen. We all find ourselves down or frustrated or sad.

And some trees really are taller than us. That’s okay. Because you don’t have to be the tallest tree in the forest to live a better story. Some trees do incredible things in spite of how short they are.

Mother Teresa was short in stature. She started her ministry with zero. She had no possessions. Could a tree have been any shorter than her? But she did incredible things.

Perhaps the most important thing we can do as a tree is to notice the shorter trees around us. And then use our tallness to help.

This is love. Every tree doing whatever it can to help the shorter trees become taller than they ever thought possible.

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About Jeremy Statton

Jeremy is a writer and an orthopedic surgeon. When not ridding the world of pain, he helps you live a better story. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook or Google +.

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2 Replies

  1. marty

    thanx for the writing How Tall of a Tree are You? Like this a lot: This is love. Every tree doing whatever it can to help the shorter trees become taller than they ever thought possible.

    Have a great day! -marty

  2. thanks for reading it Marty.

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