Making Sense of the Forest and the Trees

Life, the way I believe it’s meant to be lived anyway, is a ground-floor adventure. We have to be down on the front lines if we’re to really experience all its splendor and tragedy. But that doesn’t mean we should spend all our time there. It doesn’t mean we should never retreat to strategize. If we don’t, we can’t act with the big picture in mind. And we’ll never know what direction we should be headed.

I recently had a chat over breakfast with a friend and mentor. Our conversation bounced around, but she finally said to me, “RJ, you’ve got all this stuff written all over this virtual whiteboard. All these great ideas, worthwhile messages, but you’re standing so close you can’t see any of it. Take a step back. Then it will make more sense.”

Great advice, for sure. It’s no different than the old saying about missing the forest for the trees. If we never back away from our white boards we’ll never know all that’s on them.

The challenge is it’s not always easy to notice that your nose is buried against the board. It’s not always clear we’re standing at the foot of a redwood. Who knows how long it would have taken me if it wasn’t pointed out by someone else?

We get so swept up in our daily activities and forget that those activities should be pushing us toward something. Otherwise, they’re meaningless. Otherwise, we end up not knowing where to start and we spin our wheels in frustration. Or, worse, we end up spending too much time on the wrong things.

A lot has changed for me over the past few weeks. It’s been mostly bad/difficult, but there are some silver linings in the clouds. Having breakfast with someone I respect was one of those silver linings. I had gotten very close to my white board without realizing, and it was good to be called out on it a little bit.

Since, I’ve tried to take a step or two back and reevaluate where I am in all areas of my life. I don’t want to miss the forest for the trees. I want to be aware of the big picture. I’m trying to not only acknowledge that there is an entire forest in front of me, but to also stop judging the whole thing based on by my impression of the only two or three trees I’ve been able to see.

There’s no doubt I will soon be lured back by the song of the trees. I’m sure I will once again find myself toe to toe with a massive trunk, my vision overtaken by the enormity of what’s directly in front of me. It’s inevitable. And it’s okay. What’s not okay is staying there for too long. The idea is to strike like a boxer. Get in, get out. Then back away to evaluate the updated situation. It’s not an easy thing to do, but life has shown me that the right things to do are rarely the easiest.

What Stepping Back Makes You Realize

I’ve realized a couple things, in the short time since that breakfast meeting. First, those trees aren’t nearly as big as we think. When you’re standing at the foot of something, whether it be a task, challenge, or awesome reward, we tend to get an inaccurate idea of its importance — or lack thereof.

By backing up, it becomes clear just how small those trees actually are. Sure we see many more of them then, but they aren’t as daunting or as integral as we may have thought. In other words, backing away from the forest helps us understand that the small stuff doesn’t matter as much as we thought.

The other thing I’ve realized is that there is a lot more room between each of those trees for us to navigate than we may have originally thought. We don’t have to be so burdened by some of the obstacles presented in our lives. We can simply change course and go around them.

Still, no matter how small I’ve made the trees, and how much room there is between them, I will eventually have to begin making my way through the forest once more. At the risk of finding myself right back at the foot of the redwoods all over again, I will eventually have to get back down to ground level and live.

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