Two Lifechanging Stories
The Chinese Bamboo Tree
In China, there is a tree called the Chinese bamboo tree. It is one of the Four Gentlemen plants that represent the four aspects of a prince or a noble one. In traditional Chinese culture, it is regarded as a behaviour model for the gentleman. Though it is not known for being physically strong, it has some features such as uprightness, firmness and hollow heart; people endow it with honour, elegance and simplicity.
This remarkably typical tree is different from any other tree in that it doesn’t grow in the usual fashion. While most trees grow progressively over the years, it doesn’t break through the ground for the first four years of its life. The Chinese Bamboo tree does not grow for even an inch when it is planted, irrigated, and cultivated for a whole growing season. It does not develop externally even just for an inch. The planter must continue to irrigate, fertilize and cultivate the bamboo tree. He must do so with no visible signs of activity–it fails to sprout just the same.
As the seasons come, the planter has to continue cultivating the bamboo tree for four consecutive years. He does not give up. What can be so discouraging is that the planter has nothing substantial to show for all of his investment in the tree. There is a small bulb that appears eventually with a small chute coming out of the bulb. Four long years of commitment yet you have nothing to show for it! Well, maybe just a small chute. All the growth during the first four years is underground, building a deep robust root structure.
Then comes the fifth year when you must be prepared for the most amazing and incredible growth! All the hard work pays off on the fifth year. The Chinese bamboo tree seed shoots up to more than 80 feet all within five weeks. It’s almost as though you can literally see the tree growing before your very eyes.
In four years, all the growth was underground–developing a massive root structure to support its imminent peripheral growth in the fifth year and even beyond.
The Burning Building
One Friday afternoon in April of that year–I was sitting at one of the reading tables of Visions Institute of Professionals class which was on the second floor of the building. It was a slow, unpleasant day and the comfy reading room seemed a pleasant place to spend the remaining few hours until the lecturer came. I was deeply engrossed in my Financial Management book, I was reading for the final CPA exam when I became aware of students racing past the building. The room was filling up with smoke, and there was a fire in the hallway, and it felt like–from the heat–the flames were fixing to come through to the reading room.
I stood on the edge, wondering whether to wait or jump outside the window. The flames were getting closer and hotter. I knew I had to do something. Along with several others in the class, I ran towards the closest window to see what was happening. The third storey of the building was now an enormous roaring cornice of flames and our floor had also started catching fire from the stairways–we were trapped and the only way out was through the window.
I wanted to stay in the burning building which seemed like a way better option than jumping through the window. It was a good option, but not an option I would have wanted to stay in for a long time.
I was afraid. The word is overused now, fear, but it’s a sombre word, and I’m using it sombrely. For me it denoted hysteria, spasms of frenzy–a weird yearning for life combined with a crushing sense of my own agony that presents as a fear of death. It’s maybe close to what people call terror or panic. But it’s not these things, quite. It’s more like wanting to live so much that you want to risk dying, by jumping. To stay in a burning building or to jump off the window? To wait for someone to help me or to help myself?
Horrified and helpless, I looked down at the burning building from the window. Through the thick smoke, I saw a face I knew too well, a man who had been there for me for a long time.
“You’ve got to jump. You’ve got to jump,’ I heard him say.
The terror of falling from such great height for me was just as great as it would be for me to stand speculatively at the same window just checking out the view–waiting for someone to rescue me. I stood there weighing in on the exact variables–the fire’s flames or the bloody fall to the tarmacked road.
In my mind, I was going through all the possible scenarios. What could I do? How was I going to drop? Make no mistake, I was determined to live. I looked down again at the man asking me to jump while the rest of the crowd was shouting ‘Hold on!’ Would I trust him? Would he be relied upon to cushion my fall? If I fell down and broke my legs, would he be there for me the next day?
Two stories. A Chinese bamboo tree and a burning building. Two life changing choices. Life or death. Faith or doubt. To trust or not to trust. To wait or jump.
Think about it. Life is a series of baby steps we make along the way. Some steps we make are armed with vision and knowledge. Some we make blindly because we are afraid of failing. Some steps we make straight away while others need time for us to weigh in on the options. No matter what actions we take, our choices always lead us towards or further from our goals.
Every day of your life, you are faced with opportunities. Unfortunately, the choices that face you are not heroic choices. They are bamboo tree choices. They are small, but progressive choices that steer you in a positive direction and over time you’re bound to meet success. For most of us, we spend all our lives waiting for that life changing moment that will alter the course of our lives and make us successful. Unfortunately, the clock is ticking. Every day, we choose not to tend to our bamboo tree, a choice is made for us and by the time we realize it, the seasons have passed and we have nothing to harvest.
Our simple daily decisions can become our best friend or our worst enemy. They can draw us towards our goals or send us orbiting into a galaxy far, far away. These are the days of our lives. We are offered choices every day; sickness or health, poverty or wealth, happiness or misery, knowledge or ignorance, to jump or to wait, to grow or to die, faith or doubt, for better or worse. Everything in your life exists because you made a series of decisions. Each decision, positive or negative, starts a behaviour that over time becomes a habit. It is the little things that we put off doing that cumulatively make an enormous difference–in the end results.
The Modest advantage is about the driving power in your life that will either pull you closer towards your goals or drive you away. The difference is your ability to embrace the modest advantage philosophy and make progress, big or small, towards the life you want and the person you want to become.
My prayer is that you find your story in these pages and soon discover that in life, it is not always about what you look like or what you have. It is about the person you have become. As you start reading this book, remember that you ultimately become what you repeatedly do. If your day to day habits aren’t helping you, they’re hurting you.