[1] CHARACTER BEGINS WITH HOPE. 

The journey began with Alan the Acorn parachuting from a tree. The forest was vibrant and cheered when he announced his arrival. Alan with a starry-eyed wonder, was excited to become the oak tree he dreamed of being.

“How does one become an oak tree?” Alan called out with his first question, as he laid on the ground ready to tackle his to do list.

No one responded.  

A chilling silence swept in, and he realized he was on his own. His goal of becoming an oak tree did not come with a handbook. Although many of his peers said they were happy for him and offered opinions of what becoming an oak tree required, they weren’t able to help Alan plan the undertaking he was about to pursue. After all, in fairness, they had their own dreams to consider.  

[2] MAKE YOUR DECISION AND STAND FIRM.  

Alan was warned there’d be rough patches, regardless, he knew he was on the right forest path.

Sadly, Alan saw his fellow tribe get swallowed up by deer and squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits, turkeys, crows, raccoons, you name it. He wasn’t the herbivore’s choice on the menu and thus he was spared. It’s a big deal if one survives the forest grazing; a significant initiation for acorns. Amanda, his fellow acorn, also survived the animal feast, they were the last two to keep the team cheer alive.

The rains came, the leaves started falling and Alan got buried in cold, spongy, foliage-type soil. On a side note, best mud bath he’s ever experienced to this day! His skin’s amazing! It was wonderfully relaxing, so much so, Alan fell into a deep sleep. The mud got colder and darker and deeper. And his slumber did too.

The ground froze and Alan felt his body crack, pop, ache. All he could do was sleep, ignore the pain and hope it wasn’t permanent.  

[3] YOU’LL NEED TO GROW SKILLS TO HELP YOU GET TO WHERE YOU WANT TO GO. 

One morning, something felt different. The soil was warming up and Alan started growing stringy looking hair, like a mad-scientist hairdo!

As his hair grew longer, it got tangled in the dirt and rocks.  

“Alan, take a peek. What’s going on up there?” one of his hair-roots shouted out curiously. “Ya, Alan, go check it out.” chimed in the other roots. How could Alan see what’s going on? He was now deep below the earth.

All of a sudden, Alan started growing an arm. A green one. It was flimsy, yet smooth and silky.  

His arm was stronger than he thought. It started digging into the dirt. Sure enough, Alan broke through the soil to be greeted by rays of sunlight. The warmth of the sun was comforting.

Alan was quite proud of his accomplishment. The roots were cheering “You did it, Alan. You did it!”  

[4] NEVER, EVER DISCARD THE SMALL WINS.

A flimsy sprig was all Alan had, and exactly what he needed to help break through what seemed like an impossible barrier. What might feel like a task too great for his little being, turned out to be one of the greatest life-changing transformations in his history pages. It was in his smallest stature the greatest growth took place. Alan broke through and was awakened to new and unfamiliar surroundings. The forest became the place he would plant his roots and make a real life for himself.  

Alan would soon find out remaining steadfast and firm would help establish him later as an oak. His concealed roots would help mark his territory; because what went on below the ground was far more significant than what sprung up from the ground.  

Alan decided whatever came his way, he would grow in this place and become all he’s supposed to be. Regardless of the events of each day, nothing was going to sway him.

When Alan made the decision to be rooted and established, it was like nature itself wanted to test his determination, his commitment and his resolve.

Rains beat down his stems.

Critters tried to pull Alan from the soil.

Insects crawled all over him.

And let’s not forget the animal excrement! 

The perplexing surprise was the test from his very own tribe.

[5] REPUTATION IS FLEETING. CHARACTER IS STEADFAST. 

“Alan?!?” exclaimed a familiar voice.  

“Amanda!!!”

“You’re looking great!” Amanda shouted, “How’s it going so far?” 

Alan was grateful for her encouragement. “Well, thank you, I feel great! It’s had its challenges, but I just stay focused on the goal. I know what will become of me, and remind myself every morning to keep going, I’m a few hundred feet from being that oak I dream of!”

Amanda smirked, “One ring at a time, one stem at a time, one leaf at a time.”

“How has it been for you, Amanda? We’re the two acorns still standing. Something to celebrate, right?!” he added.

Amanda sighed, “I guess so. It’s not what I thought it’d be. I didn’t think I’d have so much resistance from nature and the forest community. Hasn’t been the kindest welcome. Feel like everyone just keeps challenging my dream. Wish there was an oak tree support group, someone telling me what to do and what to expect. Alan, I’m disappointed and re-thinking my purpose. Look at my leaves! They’re disgusting. I have rotted roots. How can I thrive with this kind of mess? Not sure I made the right decision.”

Alan assumed all oak trees were self-assured, but Amanda seemed self-conscious. He’d never heard someone sound so sad in the oak community. Who told her to focus on what was going wrong in her life? Where were the oak voices reminding her to focus on what was going right?  

When she shared her disgust about her leaves and roots, Alan couldn’t see what she was talking about. The closer he looked, there they were, along with insect leaf damage and a handful of lifeless branches.  

“Amanda,” Alan sighed. “Are all your roots rotten, or just the ones closest to the surface?”

“It’s these two,” she pointed to an area five feet from her right side.

“What about your other roots?”

“I don’t know, Alan.” she sounded defeated.

“Why don’t you have a look.” Alan suggested.

Amanda took inventory. The rest appeared strong, green on the inside, with a brown coarse protective exterior.

Alan shouted to the ground, “Hey Amanda’s rooty hair-do, feeling ok? Fed? Clothed? Sheltered? All good? Healthy?”

You could hear murmurings and shuffling going on, a tremor rumbled through the earth. “Hi Alan, this is Rita, I’ve checked with the root tribe, we’re all doing well. Dr Rich said we’re about eight feet underground. Lots of dark soil, and the rocks aren’t too bad. Looking good. Lots of space to expand. We’re right on track and preparing for Amanda’s debut as a Great Oak.”  

“Thanks Rita, high-5 the team for me.” Alan gave Amanda the oak-stare his mom would throw his way whenever he wouldn’t eat his breakfast.

Amanda shrugged, “Ok Alan. I see what you’re doing.”  

[6] BE CAREFUL NOT TO LET HURTFUL OPINIONS AFFECT YOU.

“Did you assume the worst because of two rotted surface roots?”

“That’s what the forest community kept telling me. They’d see the rotten parts and tell me I wasn’t going to make it. It makes sense, Alan! Look how horrible they look. How is the forest supposed to know the rest of my roots are ok!”

“Amanda, you let the opinions of others second guess your decision. You started to doubt yourself. You started to focus on areas that weren’t as impressive. All the while, you were growing and thriving and becoming stronger and bigger. Don’t take your eyes off the goal. What they perceive and see isn’t the whole story. Reputation is what others think, it’s fleeting and flighty. But, character: there’s nothing flighty character, it doesn’t dwell on the surface. It dwells in the deeper layers, it’s what first impressions can’t capture.”

“Alan,” Amanda whispered. “I needed to hear this. How did I lose sight of what I want?”

[7] YOU ARE NOT IMMUNE TO CRITICISM.

Amanda looked at Alan, “Is that why you don’t notice the dying edges of your leaves and the lifeless twigs on your branches?

Alan was surprised by her comment. “Amanda… I… I never noticed.”

For the first time, Alan saw his frail branches, and some leaves were in dire need of water and nutrients.

Amanda continued, “You mean you hadn’t heard the other oaks talk about how feeble and insubstantial you look? How sickly your tree was compared to the other Great Oaks? How the worms were harvesting their eggs in your leaves? How the earth around you was rocky and dry?”

Alan tried to stay composed. Hiding his hurt, Alan took a deep sigh. He couldn’t decide if he wanted to cry or get angry. “Is that what the forest is saying about me?”

Amanda shook her leaves in disbelief of Alan’s cluelessness, “Yes! Alan, have you not heard these things?”

Alan hadn’t. Not once.

It hadn’t crossed his mind that a commentary of opinions about his progress would be discussed throughout the forest. Alan knew he wasn’t the perfect oak or the greatest oak in the grove; it was never his goal or quest in the first place. 

All Alan knew was that he wanted to be an oak, one of the strong oaks of the forest, and it would be difficult.   

The very words he was sharing with Amanda to encourage her didn’t seem so believable now that he was in the same challenge she was facing: “How do I not let the opinion of others impact my confidence?”

Alan hid his pain from Amanda, finished the conversation and let her know he was looking forward to watching her grow.

Amanda went back to her post with her leaves fully open, like a peacock fanning its decorative plumage. There was a lightness in her eyes and an ease in her countenance, as though her burden was lifted, as though doubt dissipated , as though she regained a new level of self-confidence.

“Easier said than done, isn’t Alan?”, commented a voice he recognized.

“Oh, hi Mama Oak.” Alan sat quietly, his leafy shoulders slumped, branch elbows resting on his bark legs, he sighed and stared at the ground. Alan didn’t anticipate the criticism and negative whispers from his fellow oaks. “Why does this bother me so?”, he thought to himself as a wave of sadness overwhelmed him.

[8] WORDS TEST OUR CONFIDENCE.

“I heard what you said to Amanda. It was wonderful insight, Alan. There’s one extra lesson for you to consider. You’re sad because you let the words of others affect you. What does it matter what others think? Words have power if you give them power. It’s up to you what level of impact it will have on you. It’s not your responsibility to change others, you can only change yourself. This is great news, Alan; not because their conversations were significant or relevant, but more so to test you. Regardless of what others say, can you remain fervent and committed to your purpose? This was a test, my dear son. And, looks like you might not have passed it on the first go. Most of us don’t. The good news is you’ll get many more opportunities! ” Mama Oak chuckled, “Oh my, the first time I heard someone say something negative about me I cried myself to sleep. One of the greatest lessons you can learn, and learn it as fast as possible: words don’t have any power unless you give them power.”

Alan listened intently, “What am I supposed to do about it?”

“When we are challenged and tested by the opinion of others, see it as a gift. It reminds us to not lose perspective, to not think too highly or too lowly of oneself, and always choose to stand back up. You are flawed, Alan. No matter what you accomplish, it will be imperfect. Your reputation will be challenged, and that’s a good thing. When reputation is challenged, character will deepen.” Mama Oak wrapped her leaves around Alan.  

Alan could feel his sorrow lifting. She always knew the right thing to say.

Mama Oak continued, “Alan, you might have a few branches missing, a few holey leaves, a few bruised roots, but one thing you must not do is doubt. Doubt will erode your confidence. Doubt will erode your commitment to continue becoming the oak you want to be. It will be in confidence that you’ll find your strength.”  

Mama Oak kissed Alan on the forehead and said, “Remember, there’s a big beautiful world inviting you to be the oak you’ve always wanted to be.”

As Mama Oak waved goodbye, Alan sighed a relief and stood back up: something he would soon find out would need to happen over and over again.

-Karen Thrall | Business Coach | Human Catalyst