My wife and I recently enjoyed a road trip to the beautiful cities of Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC. Amazing beauty in each city! In Savannah, you can enjoy dozens of wonderful city squares filled with flowers, trees, sculptures, fountains, and history. In Charleston, you are surrounded by history, well-preserved homes dating to the 18th century, and stories of our founding fathers. Both cities feature huge, spreading live oak trees that provide vast shade and unspeakable beauty.
I was struck by the expansive shade provided by the live oak trees. A single tree, possibly over 300 years old, could provide shade for an area nearly the size of a city block! This shade makes the area tolerable in the summer heat and provides a canopy that soothes, promotes calm, and helps encourage conversation and community. We get to enjoy all this because someone, perhaps three centuries ago, thought beyond their immediate needs and planted a tree they knew would never provide shade for themselves. We enjoy the benefits today from the work of an individual years ago.
How does this apply to us today? As we look at our role as leaders, models, and shapers, planting now to benefit those that come after us matters. Here are a few ways our work now to build a stronger future can make a difference:
- Developing future leaders – Helping to develop tomorrow’s leaders is planting a tree that will benefit others for decades. Find a way; take the time; seek a means to pour your life into the development of others.
- Continuous improvement – When we do the hard work today to make things better (or by eliminating today’s problems), we are paying it forward to those that come after us. Let’s not pass along today’s problems to those that fill our shoes tomorrow.
- Responsible parenting – Our primary job as parents is to create independent, responsible adults that will serve others and benefit society. When we become facilitators of anything less, we fail those that come after us.
- Innovation – Let’s face it… we are living in a world filled with technology and wonders our grandparents would never have believed possible. Yet, many of them paved the way for us. We must support and encourage new things, new ways, and out-of-the-box thinking that leads to innovation.
- Education – Investments in education always pay off, though, in many cases, years down the road. Doing our part now can make a difference to many not even yet born.
- Investing in others – By giving of ourselves to benefit others, we are planting those expansive “live oak trees” that will shade the generations to come. Failing to invest in others leads only to discouragement and a failure to thrive.
- Sacrifice – Planting a tree for someone else requires our personal sacrifice. We must buy the tree, dig the hole, place the tree, water and nurture it, and prune it to allow it to grow and mature. Making those sacrifices may not benefit us personally, but we can be sure that someone else, down the road, will enjoy the benefit of our labors, much as we enjoy the labors today of those that planted before us.
- Service – Being “givers” not “takers” benefits everyone. A leader is merely a servant in disguise. When we serve others, we model behavior and actions that will shape the future leaders.
- Kindness – There is never a time that kindness is not warranted. When we are kind to others, we demonstrate a form a “paying it forward” that is multiplied to others.
- Integrity – Integrity always pays. How many of us look back to individuals of character that helped mold who we are and what we do? We need to shape those that come after us in the same way.
My parents were part of what is called, “The Greatest Generation.” This is the group that sacrificed during two world wars, survived the great depression, and led to way to the modern, convenient way-of-life we now enjoy. Their sacrifices, in many ways, made our lives possible today. They “planted trees” under which we enjoy shade today.
One of today’s problems in society is that too many are interested only in “what’s in it for me.” Getting our “payback” quickly is the expectation. Enjoying everything “I am entitled to get” is the norm. It is my personal belief that too few individuals are willing to plant a tree for someone else to enjoy years or centuries from now. Too few are willing to sacrifice now for someone that they may never even meet.
But, I say that there is still goodness in the world. Most individuals will make the long-term investment in others. Most, given the encouragement or the opportunity, will lay the groundwork to make life better for someone else. Are you one of these? Are you willing to “plant a tree” today?
Today, you are enjoying the shade of someone else’s tree. It might be the shade of someone that paved the way for career opportunities. It may be the shade of the tree that your parents or grandparents planted for you. It may be the shade of a teacher or a coach or a mentor or a boss or a spouse or a friend. This would be a great day to say thanks, if you can find who planted that tree. At the very least, today would be a great day to pass it forward by planting a tree that you will never personally enjoy… but, one that will make a difference for someone else.