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Killing Yourself To Survive

August 17, 2016

Rodney is an old guy that tells stories.

I’m old. I feel it the day after playing basketball. I feel it in my bum shoulder that requires regular doses of Advil. I notice it when I look around and realize everyone in the meeting is younger than me. I feel it most during campouts. Sleeping on the ground, hiking up rivers, climbing mountains: All of these while trying to keep up with 12 and 13 year old scouts. It’s on these outings that I feel it the most. 

Last weekend I was in Southern Utah on a scout camping trip. One of the stops we made was at Cedar Breaks National Monument. The monument is primarily a canyon. And, like much of the area around Zions National Park it is spectacular. 

It’s also very accessible. It’s only a short walk from the parking lot to the rim of the canyon. It’s then a pleasant half mile walk around the canyon rim. All the while with views like this.

About three quarters of the way around the canyon rim trail, you come upon this tree. 

Utah, of course, has a desert climate and Southern Utah extremely so. It’s typical to see lots of dirt, rocks and sand, broken up by the occasional green tree or cactus. This particular tree is called a Bristlecone Pine. . .and it’s over 2,000 years old. 

It’s ironic that the oldest living organisms in the world live in some of the most inhospitable locations. Bristlecone pine trees are able to grow at high elevations (some more than 10,000 feet or 3,000 meters), in arid, windy conditions with poor soils. The Bristlecone Pine does this by literally killing parts of itself.

Have you ever had to kill a project? I have, and it sucks. 

Don’t cling to a mistake just because you spent a long time making it.

– Unknown

I once moved to the Midwest to go into business with a guy I didn’t know well enough. I spent thousands of dollars and uprooted my family for this move. Two months later I was on my way back to Washington, much poorer and chagrined at how badly I had misdirected my career and family. But, just because I’d made one mistake, didn’t mean I needed to compound that by staying there.

The nature of risk is that not all risks pay off. If they did, they wouldn’t be risks. I’ve explored projects at work that started with high hopes, and yet, at some point during our investigation, we realized that our project had no hopes of meeting its objectives. It’s easy to say yes to a new shiny opportunity. It’s much harder to say no. Or, more accurately, “no more.”

Film directors talk about the need to “kill your babies” if you want to make a movie. the film we see on the screen is only part of what the writer came up with and the director filmed. Sometimes we see the “director’s cut” that includes extra footage. Sometimes it’s the deleted scenes section of the DVD. But, often scenes simply end up on the cutting room floor. Often these are scenes that a director loved. Scenes she spent hours setting up, filming and editing, only to realize that as great as the scene was, it didn’t fit the movie. The film would be better without it. These are the babies that a film director has to be willing to kill to make the rest of the movie stronger.

 Sometimes we gain more by having less. Whether it’s stress, or stuff, or toxic relationships, ridding ourselves of the parts holding us back, helps us to move forward. We only have so many hours in a day. We only have so much energy to devote to things in our life. Make sure you are devoting your energy to the right things.

And that’s what makes the Bristlecone Pine so remarkable. When portions of the tree become damaged, or sick, or diseased, the tree stops sending energy and water to those sections. It kills them. That’s why a Bristlecone Pine looks the way that it does. It has killed portions of itself to allow the rest of the tree to survive. By constantly cutting the bad to save the rest, it managed to survive for millennia. The oldest Bristlecone Pines are over 5,000 years old. They are the oldest living things on the planet. In fact, they define “old.”

Yes, these trees are old. Hiking up slot canyons and sleeping on the ground made me remember that I’m old. But, like the Bristlecones I can continue to redefine myself, to add by subtracting. I can remove drama and add experiences. I can grow old without becoming old. After all, I notice I am growing old when I realize my children are leaving home but I have four grandchildren. And in that case, old isn’t too bad at all. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

  1. Mack Brewer permalink

    Great article, counsel and analogy, all wrapped into one!

    • Thanks. I always wonder how well the various voices in my head will be able to come together into a single theme. Sometimes it works better than others.

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