How Success is Like Chinese Bamboo

In the age of social media, YouTube sensations, and “viral” posts, it seems like we witness the  “overnight success” story over and over. But is there such a thing? Most entrepreneurs will tell you “no”.  While a business or product may appear to be an overnight success, it’s actually just consumers suddenly realizing its value.  What they don’t see are the years of hard work, failures, dedication, and relationship-building it took for the creators to get the market’s attention.

A popular Chinese parable demonstrates this concept through the story of a farmer who put in years of hard work before successfully growing the plant of his dreams:

Like any other crop or plant, Chinese Bamboo needs to be nurtured in order to grow; fertile soil, water, and sunlight are crucial for its survival. As the story goes, a Chinese farmer once planted a bamboo tree as he heard that it can create miracles, and he needed one to care for his struggling family.

The farmer faithfully watered, fed, and cared for the soil, in which he planted the bamboo seeds, for an entire year but saw no sign of life. No growth, no sprouts, no hope. The second year was the same as were the third and fourth years. His patience and faith in this “miracle” bamboo plant started to fade. How could something he had so diligently cared for reap absolutely no reward? During the fifth year, just as he was about to give up on his dream of growing the plant, he noticed it started to sprout. The bamboo sprung up 60 feet over the next six weeks!

How did this happen? Did the bamboo lie dormant and then suddenly shoot up 60 feet in six weeks? Of course not. What the farmer couldn’t see during the first four years was the root system the plant was developing to support its rapid ascent above ground. Had the bamboo plant not developed a strong root system, it wouldn’t have been able to support such massive and quick growth. What’s more, if you’ve ever tried to control or get rid of bamboo, you know it’s nearly impossible. The root system is so strong, it’s prolific under almost any circumstances.

This story demonstrates that patience, faith, and perseverance pay off over time, and what appears to be “overnight success” is usually the product of years of hard work.

Like the farmer, we may not immediately see the fruits of our labor in our journey toward success, but here are three things we can learn from him:

  1. Authentic Relationships are Key to Success – relationships are your root system. Like the farmer’s bamboo, genuine relationships take years to build and often do not provide an immediate, visible payoff. However, strong relationships give you a strong foundation for success. If you develop and nurture them with care, relationships enable your business to thrive. Developing authentic relationships isn’t complicated, but it does require you to shift your focus, especially in a business setting. Your focus should be not on what you want from this person, but what you can give to them to strengthen your relationship. Look for ways to add value, make connections, demonstrate your support, and build trust
  2. Patience is a (Very Necessary) Virtue – the culture of impatience and instant gratification, in which we currently live, has us very accustomed to getting immediate results. Our culture, especially in the United States, highly values speed and convenience. However, in your career and in life, this is not always the best philosophy. When rapid success does occur, it’s very difficult to maintain. Lottery winners, who are most notorious for achieving quick success, typically declare bankruptcy within 3-5 years. Looking at success as a journey rather than a destination will help you practice patience. Rather than trying to hurry up and get to the next step, enjoy the step you’re in. If the farmer had impatiently dug up the bamboo seeds and replanted them over and over to see if he could get quicker results, he would never have seen the fruits of his labor. Remember, the best things in life are worth the wait
  3. You Gotta Have Faith – have faith in yourself and your business. Had the farmer become discouraged and given  up after two or three years, he wouldn’t have experienced his dream become a reality. JK Rowling, Jeff Bezos and Henry Ford are just a few examples of entrepreneurs who did not find mega-success until their 40s. Without their hard work and perseverance, we would live in a world without Harry Potter, Amazon or Ford vehicles. In his best-selling book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Jim C. Collins writes, “The only truly reliable source of stability is a strong inner core and the willingness to change and adapt everything except that core.” Have faith in your dream. You might make mistakes, get frustrated, feel discouraged and want to quit along the way, but remember what’s driving you. Believing in yourself helps others believe in you too.

The farmer and the bamboo teach us that though success may appear to happen overnight, it’s really the result of hard work, perseverance, and faith, building what most people can’t see. The farmer was laughed at and called crazy when he watched for growth from the tree for five long years. Time placed doubt in his mind, but all along he was building the foundation he didn’t even know he needed for the amount of growth that was to come.

Let everyone laugh at you while you continue to build the relationships that will form the root system of your future success!

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