Friday, October 2, 2015

The Power of the Magical Geranium

Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another. - Napoleon Hill

The #1206 “fiction” series continues …

Abigail sat in the deserted coffee shop and idly played with her coffee cup.  She had had a full week and despite the feeling of being very busy, she somehow felt that she had accomplished very little if anything useful.

“Rough week, huh?”, asked a voice beside her.

Abigail jumped, unaware that anyone had entered the empty coffee shop.

She glanced up to see a casually dressed, clean cut man of indeterminate age smiling down here.

“May I?”, he asked, gesturing towards the chair across the table from her.

“Oh great”, Abigail thought, “I just want to be left alone.”

Before she could turn him down, he smiled and as if reading her mind, said, “You probably prefer to be left alone” and then sat down anyway.

Abigail was too tired to protest and shrugged her shoulders in silent acquiescence.

“Rough week?”, the stranger asked again, staring at her intently but gently.

“I guess so”, replied Abigail, “It just didn’t go the way I had planned and the many things I meant to accomplish remain unfinished.”

“I see”, replied the stranger, “Were these things that you meant to accomplish or that you were meant to accomplish?”

Abigail frowned in confusion, too tired to untangle the question that the stranger asked her.

“I’m not sure what you mean”, she replied, lost in confusion and fatigue.

The stranger smiled.  “Before I answer the question, I would like to tell you a story if I may”, he said.

Without waiting for permission from Abigail, he began to tell the story.

“There was once a family who lived in poverty, with every part of their Life being a struggle.  One day, a neighbor brought a flower over to Mrs. Smith, the lady of the house, and as she gave it to her, she said, ‘This is a magical geranium.  It will change your Life.’  ‘How will it do that?’, asked Mrs. Smith to which the neighbor smiled and replied, ‘You will see.’ and she left.”

“Mrs. Smith shrugged, placed the geranium on the dining room table and went about her chores.  A little while later, she was staring at the table and realized how cluttered it looked with the beautiful red flower sitting in the center.  ‘This won’t do’, she muttered as she proceeded to clean the table.  After the table was properly cleaned, she thought it made the dining room look pretty shabby and so she cleaned the entire room.”

The stranger paused, intently watching Abigail’s reaction but she said nothing as she listened.

The stranger continued.

“After Mrs. Smith had cleaned the dining room, she felt that the kitchen was too dirty in relation to the wonderfully clean dining room and so she cleaned the kitchen until it was spotless.  Seeing that the hour was late and that dinner preparation should be under way, she thought ‘I must create a meal that is worthy of this kitchen’ and though the cupboards were very lean, she put more effort into creating the meal than she had done in her living memory.  She placed the meal on the table with her best dishes and called the family to dinner.”

“When the meal was ready, she called the family to dinner and was appalled at their state of dress.  ‘There is no way you are sitting at this table dressed like that, she said sternly and sent them upstairs to clean up, insisting that they wear the best clothing they had.”

“A short while later, her family came back downstairs and were seated around the table.  Her husband gazed at the splendor before him and looked at his wife, seeing her beauty in a way he had never seen before.  ‘What is happening here?’, he asked as he marvelled at the clean house, the incredible meal, his beautiful wife and his wonderful children.”

“’I don’t know’, she said, ‘It all started with this magical geranium’ and she gestured towards the flower in the middle of the table.

“The family ate in wonder and the evening passed with the family engaged in more conversation than any of them could remember.  The next morning, Mr. Smith got up earlier than normal, shaved and put on his best clothing.  ‘What are you doing?’, Mrs. Smith asked.  Mr. Smith shrugged, smiled and then said, ‘Our meal last night reminded me that you and our kids are worthy of better than I have provided so I am on my way to look for a better job that honors all of you.’  He gave her a kiss on the cheek, went downstairs and left the house.  She could hear him whistling as he walked down the street towards the bus stop.  Walking downstairs into the dining room, she saw the geranium …. and she wondered.”

The stranger stopped telling his story, leaned back and waited for Abigail to comment.

“I don’t get it”, Abigail mumbled, “What does my busy week have to do with flowers?”

“Ahhhhh”, the stranger said as he smiled, “You missed the key point.  It’s more than just about flowers.  In fact, Abigail, I am suggesting that you have been the magic geranium in the lives of others.”

Abigail frowned in confusion but before she could comment, the stranger continued his thought.  He recounted different things she had done for others this week, some insignificant and some more impactful.

“How does he know this?”, she thought but before she could ask him, he looked at her and said, “That is why I asked you if your to-do list for the week was made up of things that you meant to accomplish or that you were meant to accomplish.  Sometimes it is the former but sometimes, possibly more than you realize, it is the latter.  Unfortunately, we measure the success and productivity of our week by the former while the latter is often more impactful.”

Abigail stared into the eyes of the stranger.  His gaze was deep and piercing but gentle and she felt her eyes well up as what he had said dawned on her.

She started to speak but he gently held up a hand and interrupted her.  “Don’t speak, Abigail”, he said gently, “Reflect on this for a while and then decide what it means to you.”

Abigail swallowed the lump in her throat and then, feeling a little awkward about crying in front of a stranger, stood up and told him that she needed to compose herself. 

She walked into the bathroom, splashed some water on her face and stared at herself in the mirror.  He was right – her priorities had been wrong all along.

Straightening up her clothing, she walked back out into the coffee shop.  Her brow furrowed in puzzlement when she realized that the stranger was gone.

She turned to the person behind the counter and asked, “Did the gentleman leave?”

“What gentleman?”, replied the young man, “Miss, we’ve been closed for over an hour.  I locked the door but I didn’t want to disturb you so I just left you alone.  No one has come or gone in the last hour.”

Abigail was confused and stared at the table, her head spinning as she wondered what had happened.

“How did he know what I did for others this week?”, she pondered.

As she wondered about this, something else dawned on her.

“How did he know my name?”

To be continued.

© 2015 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved


The story of the magical geranium, of which I presented a very abridged version of, was a story I remember as a child.  The story was one of many in a book entitled Read Aloud Funny Stories, published in 1958.  The book can be found in used condition here.

Many people I encounter often express the results of their week in terms of how busy they were, how productive they were, etc.  As a long time Wall St’er, I do the same.

As someone who is measured by results (and who measures himself by results), I am often very self-critical in regards to what I believe I have accomplished in a day or a week.  It is a sad by-product of a modern society that believes every thing we set out to accomplish is important and urgent (referencing Stephen Covey’s works) – the notion that our sense of discernment is unable to distinguish between activity and productivity and the impact, usefulness or usefulness of either of them.

Many things we set out to do are important and some are urgent.  Our sense of discernment regarding how our to-do list is categorized is often flawed, however, and so it becomes easy to become self-critical when the result is evaluated or a result is unknown.

As this story came to mind today, I thought, “I wonder how many times we change someone’s Life and are not aware of it, thus creating a greater, more impactful result than anything we could have planned.”

Productivity and results matter in my world and likely matter in yours.

But in your day-to-day execution, especially at times when you wonder if you are getting done “what you are supposed to get done”, be gentle with yourself and ask what other things you may have accomplished – ask yourself, “Were the things that I accomplished things that I meant to accomplish or things I was meant to accomplish?”

The subtle difference makes all the difference and an honest answer may surprise you.

Many of us have had events and people come into our lives that were similar to the magical geranium that Mrs. Smith received.

Have you been someone else’s magical geranium?

Are you sure?

How do you know?

What do you need to do about it?

Series Origin

This series, a departure from my usual musings, is inspired as a result of conversations with former senior advisors to multiple Presidents of the United States, senior officers in the US Military and other interesting folks as well as my own professional background as a Wall St. / Fortune 25 strategy and large-scale technology architect.

While this musing is just “fiction” (note the quotes) and a departure from my musings on technology, strategy, politics and society, as a strategy guy, I do everything for a reason and with a measurable outcome in mind. :-)

This “fictional” musing is a continuation of the #1206 series noted here.