Don’t Just See the Forest through the Trees: Embrace the Entire Eco-System
Written by Wes Steele
May 4, 2017

A dive into career and life lessons we can draw from Steve Uzzell, a man who built his career and spent much of his life taking photographs for National Geographic.

What can a National Geographic photographer teach us about running even the largest and most complex organizations? How can we learn to surpass our wildest expectations for finding fulfillment and success in a career? For creating a life worth remembering? It turns out, a lot. Steve Uzzell influenced me in 2015. Take a picture, and you have a tree. Step back and take the same picture, and you have a forest. Step back again and take the same picture, and you have a diverse, interconnected, and complicated eco-system.

When I look at my Linkedin news feed, I see articles reposted by the talented Employee Benefits professionals I know, all battling with each other for the same piece of the pie. Imagine that you read the same articles and magazines as your peers. You go to the same conferences. You read the same legislative updates. You learn from the same industry sales reps. If you take a Myers-Briggs personality assessment – you may even discover you have the same personality type as your competitor. You’re from the same generation. You have the same middle class upbringing. In a world where you have so much in common with those you battle with, how can you ever differentiate yourself, and more importantly experience the inner peace gained through fulfillment of purpose?

My answer? Break from the mold. Take a lesson from Steve Uzzell of National Geographic. Don’t just see a tree in front of your eyes. Step back and look at the forest. When you see the forest, you’ve surpassed the perspective of many around you. You have the perspective needed for a successful career. But why not challenge yourself and explore whether you’re really maximizing your potential? Question whether the forest in front of your eyes is really what you should be looking at. Is there a wider eco-system around you that you should be paying attention to?

Anyone can see a tree fall. With greater perspective, many will see a forest cut down. Some will see the simultaneous replanting effort of new trees elsewhere. Only a precious few will step back yet again and see that the lumber generated from that forest is creating housing for a new generation of homeowners.

What if instead of reacting to the changing world, you understood the forces that were actually changing it? That change itself is not a surprise to you, because you understand the reasons why the change is happening. What if you actually consider where you fit in the dynamic and complex eco-system? How would that change the way you approach every day? Your routine? The way you interact with your family? Your co-workers? Your boss? Your friends? How would it change the way you live your life?

There are advantages of looking at the world this way. They include:

  • You explore your vision and purpose.
  • You develop passion and conviction that leads you to stand out.
  • You find inspiration in unexpected places.
  • You gain deep fulfillment from your successes.
  • You keep your difficulties in perspective.

Every day we write a word of our life story. Every month we write a few sentences. Every year we write a dozen pages. Through the major milestones of our life (childhood, the college years, marriage, starting a family, etc.) we construct entire chapters. The great news is – you still have an opportunity to define your own book. A great place to start is by taking not just one, but two steps back and examining your place in the eco-system. You may discover a whole new way of interacting with the world around you.

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