When forward thinking is backwards

Yesterday, I was chatting online with my friend, Ed. We were catching each other up; he me on his new job, I him on my studies and so on. I must have been caught up in the telling of my recent successes and up-coming plans, because somewhere along the way, he made a straightforward utterance that stopped me in my tracks unexpectedly. A one-liner that got me thinking. It was this:

“Don’t forget to look back for all the looking forward.”

What he meant was (or at least how I choose to interpret his meaning in relationship to what we had been discussing directly prior): No matter how far you have come or where you plan on going, don’t forget those who paved the way and those who have stood and stand beside you.

This morning, as I again thought about his comment, I was reminded of the main message in “Outliers”, the latest book by Malcolm Gladwell. You may already know him from his other books “The Tipping Point” and “Blink”, which I can both highly recommend.

In “Outliers”, Gladwell reflects on why some people become much more successful than others. He challenges the Western notion that success is an individual phenomenon – that one can become successful in a particular field if he or she is born with certain personality traits, the proper amount of intelligence and talent or the “hard working” gene.

Gladwell encourages readers to take a closer look at the entire system surrounding the individual – time and economic era, access to available resources and family support, chance occurrences and flukes in the system – which he believes are equally, if not more responsible than individual capabilities in the overall equation of success.

Here is a passage from “Outliers” (I especially love this analogy because I am a tree and forest freak):

“Biologists often talk about the ‘ecology’ of an organism: the tallest oak in the forest is the tallest not just because it grew from the hardiest acorn; it is the tallest also because no other trees blocked its sunlight, the soil around it was deep and rich, no rabbit chewed through its bark as a sapling, and no lumberjack cut it down before it matured. We all know that successful people come from hardy seeds. But do we know enough about the sunlight that warmed them, the soil in which they put down roots, and the rabbits and the lumberjacks they were lucky enough to avoid? This is not a book about tall trees. It’s a book about forests…”

Tall treeSo today, inspired by Ed’s wisdom, I decided to climb off my high-horse, “look back for all the looking forward” and recognize the substantial gift that is my forest, my ecology, my place and time in history. Right now, I am taking a moment to imagine and be grateful for all the circumstances and all the sacrifices, the hard work and the tremendous acts of love as well as the many small thoughts and gestures of others which are in every way as significant to everything that I am and will become as my own doings.

@Ed: Although you probably served it unknowingly, thank you for the piece of humble pie. I needed it!

Until we meet again,


PS: See what a harmless chat session can trigger in my head. Be careful what you write to me. You may end up getting quoted on my blog 😉

[Today’s blog post is dedicated to my girls – Laura, Andrea, Laura Lynn and Kathy – who always stand beside me.]


4 responses to “When forward thinking is backwards

  1. Hi Shailia,

    nobody was more surprised by this piece of amateur philosophy than I! Anyway, pleased to have been of some minor inspiration.

    Keep focussed


  2. Shailia, thanks for sharing this beautiful piece. I can’t tell you how close this philosophy is to my own personal belief system. And, in a political sense, I’ve always thought if those who preach the ole “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” addage could just take a moment to stop and reflect and be grateful for the gifts they have been given which allowed them to personally succeed, perhaps their self-righteousness would melt into empathy and compassion and giving back. Wrapped in humility and gratitude, strength and success become an inspiration to others, making the whole forest a better place in which to live.

    You have definitely found your fertile ground from which to grow and thrive, and it’s nice to see you shining so brightly!

    Keep inspiring us all!

  3. This is you girl. I have been telling everyone to check out you website. Sounds great. I knew you could do whatever you put your mind to. A kinda- pay- it forward theme. You never know whose lives you will cross and what impact you will leave behind. Take care, Pam

  4. Love the analogy as well! Many of us know that the success of an individual is of their own hard work and passion and I wouldn’t disagree with that. But as the author mentioned: we usually don’t know enough about the sunlight that warmed them, the soil in which they put down roots, and the rabbits and the lumberjacks they were lucky enough to avoid. And that I believe is where we should take inspiration from. Thank you for sharing!

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