The Ultimate Metaphor for Personal Growth: The Bamboo Tree

Posted by Tom Speaks on Nov 27, 2018 1:18:00 PM
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  • Do you have a goal set for yourself, but others cannot see it?
  • Do you have something that matters to you, but others cannot comprehend its depth?
  • Are you striving for something, but aren’t seeing results?

If you answered “YES” to any of these questions, you are likely striving to forge a path for personal growth – and you’re not alone. The personal development industry generates over $1 billion in annual revenue and has grown in sales every year since 2008.

Although the foundations of developing your goals may seem like common sense, not everyone knows how to make constructive decisions and take action. 

Building anything of worth and substance takes time.

Let’s use a story to illustrate this point. 


The Story of the Chinese Bamboo Tree:

 Imagine that you have just been given a Chinese Bamboo Tree seed. And imagine that you plant that seed. Now, you must keep that seed perfectly watered and at the perfect temperature for it to germinate.

After the seed is planted, you spend the first year carefully watering the dirt over that seed and carefully monitoring the temperature. Nothing happens. All you see is a patch of dirt. 

Then it’s the second year and you again water that patch of ground with great care. Still nothing – just dirt.

Okay, now it’s year three. You give the plant the same diligent care, and your plant is still just dirt.

It’s the fourth year, seasons have come and gone, and your neighbors, family members and friends are laughing at you because they’ve been watching you water that patch of dirt for four years, which has resulted in nothing. They can’t help but ask you, “Why do you keep doing such a useless task? Can’t you see there’s nothing there?”

It’s now the fifth year of watering and monitoring the temperature and, finally there’s a sprout! And not just any sprout – that bamboo does an amazing thing. The tree bursts with life and grows 80 feet tall in six weeks.    

How is this possible? How could this tree grow 80 feet tall in six weeks?

Well, the question really is: Did that bamboo tree grow 80 feet tall in six weeks, or did it grow 80 feet tall in five years and six weeks?

What do you think?

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Recognizing the Truth in the Metaphor

The answer is five years and six weeks! In those first five years, although it was totally unseen from above, that tree was growing! It was growing a solid, broad and vast root system – a system that could support explosive growth.

Picture it in your mind: During those first five years with the planter’s diligent care, the roots were slowly expanding and getting stronger. And all that time, if viewed from above the soil, an observer would only see dirt.

There is real power in this metaphor.

Have you ever tried to do something and then quit before you reached your goal? Truthfully, we all have. After you’d quit the thing you were trying to do, did you ever examine why you quit?

Many times, we quit things because we are not seeing immediate results of our work or effort. 

  • Have you ever tried to learn a new skill and become frustrated and quit? Why did you quit?
  • Have you ever tried to start a business and after things just didn’t get rolling fast enough, you threw in the towel? Why? 

The reality is, nobody sees results immediately. Yet, people always want immediate satisfaction.

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The Lesson to be Learned

Here’s where the Bamboo Tree metaphor kicks in.

Anytime you are trying to do something significant or important, you most likely will not see immediate results. You’ll be looking at dirt. But if you continue to diligently learn that new skill, your roots will be growing even though others can’t see them.

Do you have the grit and the faith to work at that new skill or to not give up on your business even though no one else can see any immediate results? All the doubters see is dirt. And they may remind you, often, that all they see is dirt. But you are the person who knows those roots are growing. 

So how does this relate to workplace culture?

Here’s how: Building a solid culture grounded in appreciation takes time.

Imagine yourself taking the initiative to improve your work culture for the positive. You are instituting fun activities, and…DIRT. You are creating an expectation that people will catch each other doing something right and…DIRT.

You are keeping at it for a long time, and then—miracle of miracles—the sprout! Just like that, the culture begins to shift in a positive direction. It takes grit. It takes faith. It takes persistence. It takes time.


We love the quote, “Difficult paths lead to beautiful places.

Hang in there. The journey may be long, but the transformation will be beautiful.     

Topics: Work Environment, Motivation, Appreciology, Employee satisfaction, Engagement

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