Somewhere over the course of two days spent hiking, staring and breathing in the mighty California coast redwoods recently, I heard something that gave me goose bumps. There were actually many thrilling moments of taking in new facts about and among these ancient trees, but this one thing underlined, highlighted in neon, something I’d been thinking about for a while.

Something about what I love about my work, my clients, the business that I’m in, the way business seems to work now.

On the face of it, I get it: you’re all, um, really, what on earth could accounting and forests have in common? How could counting and analyzing and pricing and coaching be related in any way to the towering old-growth residents of the West Coast?

Oh honey, it’s all related. And that’s part of it. ;>

I can’t remember if it was something one of the helpful rangers we talked to along the way said. Or if it was something printed in a trail guide or narrated on the little steam train we rode through the woods. But at some point I really started to “see” the roots of these enormous trees, to have a sense of their dynamism and span under the surface of the soil. And to think about how these giants can stand so tall and stay upright, for example, even when they’ve grown at a less than perpendicular angle to the ground, even when they’re so crooked.

Underground the roots of the trees are intertwined, forming a vast, strong and interdependent substructure that keeps trees standing that otherwise might fall.

They hold each other up.

And since this made me jump around, goose-bumped and delighted, I cracked open a book I’ve been waiting to read, The Hidden Life of Trees, and there’s more:

Most individual trees of the same species growing in the same stand are connected to each other through their root systems. It appears that nutrient exchange and helping neighbors in times of need is the rule, and this leads to the conclusion that forests are superorganisms with interconnections much like ant colonies.

Rather than this notion that trees growing close together are crowding each other and robbing each other of nutrients, the opposite is true. Their survival, their thriving, is in community with each other. In fact, they appear to “synchronize their performance so that they are all equally successful,” “equalizing differences between the strong and the weak” by redistributing nutrients at the level of their roots.

This way of looking at these trees as a community, as a superorganism in which the good of the whole increases the good of each individual tree, rocked my whole world.

Because that’s how I so often feel when I talk to my clients. Like their success is my success and my success is theirs. Like we’re engaged in this mutually-beneficial exchange of resources and encouragement and inspiration that collectively helps us grow. It’s not a competition, not ever. And this partnership for growth, growth that is both personal and professional, this way we’re helping each other do better, be better, all the time, you know what that makes us?

We are a superorganism.

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Yes, I’m working the numbers and you’re doing the design; I’m telling you a financial story and you’re delivering your services; I’m helping you reprice your offerings and you’re impacting more clients; I’m on the Zoom talking with you and you’re inspiring me with your insights, your passion, your devotion, your results.

That’s no small thing. That’s our roots intertwining.

Though you may think it’s just you over there making it up as you go along, trying new things, taking risks to realize whatever your dream is, it’s never just you.

Collectively, we’re holding each other up. Together, we’re changing the world.  

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