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Can You See the Forest from the Trees?

Once upon a time, a young boy on a summer field trip wandered off from his group and got lost in a forest trying to explore a grove of trees. He may have only been lost for a few hours, but, when you are lost and ten years old in a forest that is getting dark, a few hours seem like a lifetime.

At first, when he wandered off to explore the group of trees, he enjoyed the freedom he had felt. He would soon feel differently, however, as he unwisely kept walking further away from the group and into the trees.  While there, he enjoyed exploring the creeks, hiking over rocks, and climbing over fallen trees.  

Everything was fine until he realized that he had been gone for a while. His feeling of freedom turned to real concern (and later panic) when he realized after some time that he was lost. With each new attempt to find his way out of the forest, he was sure that he had found the right path to lead him back to the campsite.

He quickly learned that he wanted to get out of that forest so badly that he was convincing himself that he was on the right path. In reality, he was just going in circles as he was seeing what he wanted to see — a way out of the forest.

Eventually, he accepted the truth.

He was really lost as he was coming back to the same place where there was a large boulder and a fallen tree that rested over a creek.  As he looked up at the top of the trees from the bottom of the forest, it looked and felt like a large space to explore without a door to get out. He started to panic when he realized that it was getting dark and the bus home would be leaving in soon.

He started to fear the worst.  He thought he would be eaten by some wild animal (like mentioned in the 28th degree in the 1-40) or be forever lost, never to see his family again. He eventually found a side exit out of the forest.  As he ran as fast as he could to find his way back to the campsite, he remembered looking back at the forest and it looked completely different to him.

In life, we sometimes get caught in our situations and can’t see the forest from the trees. Sometimes, students of 120 degrees can get so caught up in the details of the lessons they are unable to look at the lessons as a whole.

Can’t see the forest from the trees is a widely known saying that is accepted as true for those who sometimes can’t see a situation for what it really is while they are in the midst of it.

To the detriment of ourselves and others, we can be too heavily invested in our way of seeing or doing things (an organization, strategy, philosophy, leadership style, management approach, group of people, etc.).

We easily become lost because we are not questioning enough or we’re not listening enough. When we do this, we cannot see the forest for the trees. Worse, our own emotions may be our biggest obstacle to finding our way out of a lost situation. When our thinking becomes clouded by emotions, it’s difficult for us to see the bigger picture and we lose our perspective.

Whether it is our own inability to admit we were wrong, our honest but naive loyalty, or our strong sense of perseverance, the result is the same.  We lose sight of what’s more important, and we escalate our commitment to the wrong path – one that is leading us in circles – or in the wrong direction – instead of moving us forward.

If you find yourself lost, the righteous way is to stay calm first. Staying calm helps you to control those emotions and find your way. Remember that we can only see the forest when we get out of the trees!

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