“Trees Don’t Grow to the Sky” is a popular German proverb. Most often used in financial sectors to describe the dangers of maturing companies with high growth rate. It indicates that there are natural limits to upward growth. With the right conditions, a young tree will grow quickly but, as it matures, its growth in stature slows to a negligible rate. It is still growing, but we won’t notice the daily growth in height.
A slowdown in growth of height, does not mean a stop in growth. Growth is not only a measure of upward (height) but also outward (canopy) as well as below (roots). A tree matures in other ways, over and over. It regenerates, adds layers, creates new foliage, and its roots strengthen. I have skyline locust trees planted 30 years ago when they were sticks. They grew two feet a year for about 15-20 years but as that growth slowed, their roots continued to bifurcate, and their canopy continued to provide shade, and they drop seed pods that feed deer and squirrels every fall.
The same principle can be applied to a business or community. A business will not continue to see increasing revenue growth forever. At some point, companies, or even the marketplace, matures to where it cannot support a soaring growth rate. Product, customers, and markets will not continue to grow simply because they have always grown. A growth mindset can mean striving for business growth that can be market share or net profit as opposed to top line growth. If a company sales decline by ten percent but the overall market declines by twenty percent, effectively there was market share growth.
Mangrove trees are an example of growth not measured in height. They are part of a complex biological ecosystem. In the water beneath their roots, they provide food as well as habitat protection for fish and other aquatic creatures. Mangroves root systems also play an especially important role in protecting coastlines from storms and rising waters. It is the ecosystem’s growth that matters, not the trees.
A spreading root system helps balance weight and maintain an anchor to the ground. In many cases, a tree will grow only fast enough to support itself and carry out its normal functions. Trees offset for heavy growth by producing reaction wood, formed in place of normal wood. Reaction wood, also called compression wood or tension wood, is much denser and stronger than normal wood. It balances the forces of gravity and helps push the tree back towards level or balance.
Overcoming adversity is akin to producing reaction wood. We are producing reaction wood through the challenges we are facing today, and we will be stronger and more balanced tomorrow as a result. A growth mindset is the continuous belief that improvement is possible and that failures are opportunities to learn. Pruning is critical for a tree to grow properly.
George Washington famously said that, “True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity, before it is entitled to the appellation.” To be designated as true friendship there must be mutual trust. One of my most beloved movies is Shawshank Redemption. That movie highlights the power of friendship and the love that lies within it. The example of friendship growth between Andy and Red, under unique and adverse circumstances, serves as an affirmation of devotion and was a source of solace in a volatile environment.
Since high school, I have been a fan of the band, Rush. The Canadian trio has their unique sound, but they also tend to make statements with their lyrics. At first, I thought their song “Trees” was just a whimsical collection of words, one of those cute catchy tunes. After understanding more of their songwriting style, I discovered that the song’s meaning is the story of the Canadian independence struggle, where the Canadian Maples wanted their equal rights from the English Oaks. The oaks used their lofty status to grab up all the light not allowing the maples to reach their capabilities.
We must be careful that our talent does not take us to heights that our character can’t support. Reaching our ‘status’, can reveal and even magnify our character. Our character needs continuous work and attention to grow and improve. Character grows from the inside out but even more importantly by honoring our commitments made to spouses, family, friends, community, and work – any relationship we have.
Being a person of character is not enough, it is important to me to distinguish being a person of Christian character. I have seen people of character, ascending to lofty heights, standing tall like a sturdy oak with a broad canopy, be toppled by a storm because their roots were shallow in faith. One must have a strong developed root system to remain upright and tall in today’s world. Matthew 13, the Parable of the Sower, first presented by Jesus 2000 years ago is just as relevant today. Christian character is made possible only through spiritual growth.
Psalm 92:13-15, extols that the just are likened to trees growing in the sacred precincts of the Temple, which is often seen as the source of life and fertility because of God’s presence, “The just shall flourish like the palm tree, shall grow like a cedar of Lebanon. Planted in the house of the LORD, they shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall bear fruit even in old age, they will stay fresh and green.”
Spiritual growth is the process of becoming more mature in one’s relationship with Jesus Christ, to grow in grace and knowledge, and allow the Holy Spirit to act within us on the process of conforming us to His image. Spiritual growth must continue and allow us to reach for the sky. “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for” is a quote from Robert Browning, the very first one of my 1300+ quote collection.
We will rise to the level of our competence and the closer we get to the light, the greater our shadow becomes. As we mature, let us be regenerative and additive, strengthening the ecosystem while we aspire to Christ-like.