Saturday, April 1, 2017

Lessons from a coconut palm

A coconut palm, an almond tree and a flamboyant tree stood in the gentle breeze of a Caribbean island. Suddenly the winds sprang up and a hurricane blew through. The coconut tree was tossed to and fro, the almond tree and the flamboyant tree stood firm. At the end of the storm, the almond tree with its strong trunk broke in two, the flamboyant that stood strong and proud was uprooted. The only tall tree remained untouched was the coconut tree. A small grape bush looked up at the coconut tree and asked, “Mr. Coco, the almond tree had a mighty trunk, three times as strong as you, the flamboyant tree had roots that spread for yards around, how is it that they broke in the wind and you with your flimsy trunk and narrow roots withstood the storm?”

The coconut tree smiled and said to the grape, “You see, I’m thin and flexible and my roots run deep. When the wind blows from the north, I dance to the south, when it comes from the west, I dance to the east. I bend and bow in the direction of the wind. But the almond tree tried to stop the wind with his trunk and resisted mightily, and the flamboyant, despite its widespread roots is not deeply grounded.  In short, I’m firm but flexible. That is the secret of my strength.”

That is the way our schedules should be— firm and flexible like a coconut tree. Last September after working part time and writing for some time I got a fulltime position with a forty minute commute. It was a nightmare in the beginning because it upset my routine.  I struggled to get organized, juggling three kids, their schools, their afterschool activities, homework, my writing and my newfound stress.  By the end of the semester I had it down. I was like a pro juggling my schedule, the kids and home commitments. I even built an exercise routine in all that chaos.

Then just when I thought I had it all down, spring semester began and my schedule changed. Bummer! Not only my schedule changed, but my kids took up different sports, and after school activities. Now I had to reorganize once again.  So what did I do? I learned from the coconut palm: be firm but flexible.
Here are a few ways I try to be firm but flexible in my organization.

1. Try not to over schedule
I know. This is easier said than done. There is so much to do and so little time to do it. We schedule every minute of our time and when things change as they always do there’s no wriggle room to rearrange our schedules. Overscheduling is the way we try to control the situation around us. The coconut palm doesn’t try to control or brace itself against the winds around it. It just goes with the flow.

2. Don’t hang your hat where your hand can’t reach
That is to say, don’t set your expectations too high. I have historically been (and still am) very disorganized. When I first tried to organize, I made a to do list. The to do list had so many things that I wanted to accomplish in one day it was impossible to fulfill. I found myself constantly feeling disappointment for not accomplishing my goals. Now, I set just a few realistic things that I want to accomplish.

3. Prioritize
There is only 24 hours in a day. So I choose some “must do”, some “desire to do” and some “will do when I get to it.” I give priority to the must do before anything else. The others can wait if the time isn’t there. If I get all the essentials out of the way, I can add things that from the previous day that I did not accomplish.

4. Use the 14th and 15th letters of the alphabet more often
Yes, sometimes you simply should say no to new tasks that are not a priority in your life. Many times we look at accepting new tasks as a new opportunity, but if your schedule is too packed, you just have to decline new commitments.

5. Put time for you in our schedule
This is so much needed especially for women. We take care of the needs of everybody around us and we leave ourselves for last. As we are pulled here and there, we need to set aside time to relax and reflect and do the things we love otherwise we lose ourselves and our sanity. If we make time for ourselves we'll ground ourselves, laying down deep roots like the coconut tree.

 6. Cut your losses
To be flexible, we must be able to move with the flow, like the coconut tree. Sometimes that means we have to recognize when what we’re doing is futile and walk away.

7. Don’t resist change, embrace it
The coconut tree epitomizes this philosophy. Change will come. If we resist it and hold on to our dinosaur ways, we will get left behind. Ask all those authors who refused to make their books available in ebook format in the early digital days. Make your schedule flexible enough to allow unscheduled changes.

These are the lessons I've learned from the coconut palm. If you're deeply grounded and firm but flexible you will survive the winds of change, the winds of life.


Linda Thorne said...

Some very good advice here. Interesting.

Liane Spicer said...

Love the coconut tree analogy, Jewel. I've seen those post hurricane photos when the only trees standing are the coconut trees.

Great advice, especially for someone like me for whom organization is a challenge.

Sharon Aguanno said...

Very nicely put! And good advice!