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Ordinary People Taking Action
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I have wanted to move to a new home for a very long time, and while that’s not what this story is about, the context is important. It’s important because I have spent a lot of time looking at houses, and in doing so, I have noticed something: every house has a living space in which all seating is positioned to make the television more easily viewable. My own home is not an exception. This arrangement is so common that it’s always easy to identify which houses are staged and which are currently lived in. Televisions aren’t a focal point in a staged home.
On a related note, I recently read that habits are formed because of things that we do repeatedly, and often, our environment shapes these habits. It’s no wonder people come home, fall onto the sofa and settle into an hours-long daze of television watching. After all, you have a comfortable place to sit that is positioned right in front of the television. We’ve created the perfect environment for what some might argue is a not very productive habit.
A side story, completely unrelated to this (I will tie everything together soon, I promise) is that three years ago, I mentioned to my family that I really wanted a lemon tree. They were skeptical. In the state of Washington, there isn’t continuous year-round sunlight and warm weather. How would I manage to grow lemons? I told them I was committed to the task, and so, for Mother’s Day that year, I was the proud receiver of a lemon tree.
For three years now, I have babied this tree. I carefully place it outside from spring through fall, ensuring that it comes back inside when overnight temperatures drop below 50 degrees. The summer is the best season for the lemon tree as it soaks up rays of sunshine on the long summer days. Growing my lemon tree has required patience. The first two summers it really didn’t look like a lemon tree. There were just green leaves. The second year, green leaves with white blossoms. And, this year, it produced “lemons” which, by the end of summer, were still green. I would receive compliments on my lovely lime tree.
My lemon tree follows the same cycle as many other trees. Each autumn, the leaves start to fall and by winter, the leaves are completely gone. This year has been a little different, however. I brought it inside about a month ago, and it’s already lost almost every leaf. Yet, in hopes to save the lime-looking-lemons, the tree is positioned front and center in our main living room, right in front of a huge window. The tree has become the center point of the room: the focal point, you might say.
Multiple times throughout the day, I see the tree. In fact, on the days I work from home, I peek at it while on conference calls or looking up from my computer. What I have noticed is that this year, although the leaves are almost all gone, the lime-looking-lemons aren’t falling off at all. In fact, they are securely stuck to the branches. I know this because I check on them multiple times a day. The tree is protecting what it values most – the things that it’s supposed to produce. I mean, after all, it’s a lemon tree, so what is most important to this tree is, indeed, the lemons. Not only are the lemons securely attached, as of today, one of them is starting to yellow. A lime-looking-lemon is ripening into an actual lemon-looking-lemon.
With the tree being the focal point of the room, it has also become the focal point of several discussions. As friends come over, there is almost always a question about the tree. Primarily, why do we have a “dead-looking” tree in the middle of the living room? I explain that it isn’t dead, it’s very much alive – and cycling through the seasons while I protect it from the outdoor elements. So why do I care so much about growing lemons? The answer is simple: the tree brings me joy – and the thought of growing lemons brings me joy.
What I’ve learned is that the physical placement of the lemon tree in our home has made it a point of topic for me, my family and our friends. Our main living room doesn’t have a television in it – yet it does have a big, almost dead lime-looking-lemon tree in it. Just as I recently read, whatever we put front and center in our lives becomes the focal point, and this plays a crucial role in shaping our habits.
Here is what else I have learned. When the tree has maximum energy and strength, all the leaves and soon-to-be lemons are flourishing. Provided the tree has enough water and sunshine, it looks healthy and strong, like it can take on whatever comes its way. In the middle of the summer, it’s so strong that if I forget to water it a few times, there is enough in reserve to keep the tree healthy. As the seasons change and the tree gets less sunlight, the tree needs to shed its leaves to protect its base. If the leaves don’t fall, the tree simply doesn’t have enough nutrients to take care of its core.
And, this winter, this tree has gone through some really big changes. It finally has what it’s meant to produce: lemons. So, this winter, the tree must shed its leaves faster so that the tree can protect the lemons. Because, that is the job of the tree – to protect the one thing it is truly meant to do. To grow lemons.
As I look at this tree, every day, it’s a focal point of a very important habit. It allows me to think of the things that need to fall off – that I need to let go of – so that each day I can do the thing that I am truly meant to do. I recently named this tree Joy.
What are you choosing to put front and center in your life?
What habits are you consciously or less consciously creating?