Gerry ChidiacThe Chinese bamboo tree shows little or no apparent signs of growth for four years. Then suddenly, it can grow as much as 25 metres in weeks. That’s a powerful metaphor for the growth of successful people.

Over those apparently-dormant four years, the tree actually is growing; we just can’t see it. It’s developing an elaborate root system to support it during upward rapid growth.

As one year ends and another begins, we typically examine our lives. And it may appear that we’re making no progress. However, this isn’t necessarily true. If we’re investing in ourselves and working hard to be the best we can be, we’re laying a root system that will support us when our period of exponential growth arrives.

Two-time National Basketball Association most valuable player Stephen Curry is a typical example of a person who achieves long-term success. He didn’t ride a steady trajectory to stardom. Much of his development happened below the surface, unnoticed by most. Although he was a standout athlete in high school, Curry didn’t receive a single scholarship offer to a major American university. He ended up playing for relatively unknown Davidson College.

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Curry continued to develop his root system through hard work and determination. He matured at Davidson and led his team to new heights. He has continued to do the same at the professional level, leading the Golden State Warriors to three league championships.

We see stories similar to Curry’s in all aspects of life. When we live with integrity and gratitude, when we work hard and are kind to others, all the while keeping our eyes focused on the amazing heights before us, we’re developing our root system.

When our opportunity for greatness arrives, we’ll be ready and we’ll thrive.

When we’re not achieving success at the pace we would like, we can think of the bamboo tree, knowing that when the time is right, we’ll soar to great heights.

The media loves to tell us rags-to-riches stories and will often present a person as ‘an overnight success.’ This is seldom accurate. If we really examine the lives of these people, we’ll see that they’re filled with years of toiling in obscurity. The ‘overnight success’ is really the simple reward for persistent effort.

Great people know that they’re great regardless of what the world says. When the time comes for the world to notice, they’re able to embrace their visible success with grace and character.

Having worked in education for more than 30 years, I’ve heard many wonderful stories of people achieving phenomenal success. I smile when former students say things like, “I’m sorry I was so bad in your class.” I knew this was only a phase in their lives, that they were likely struggling with a particular area of learning or something disruptive was happening around them.

I tried to convey that there was greatness in each of them, and as long as they showed up every day and did their best, something incredible was going to happen. I’m so grateful when they prove that I was right.

These young people really have a valuable lesson for all of us: We’re always students, regardless of our age. As we show up every day and do our best to achieve our goals, we’re establishing the root system for the phenomenal growth that lies ahead.

Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and works with at-risk students. For interview requests, click here.

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