If You Plant Corn, Corn Will Grow

“If you plant corn, corn will grow” – Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching

I ran across this quote a few weeks ago and fell in love with it. I did a little research to find out the source and underlying meaning, only to discover its tie to Buddhism. I have always appreciated the teaching of Buddha, largely given its context of the internal reflection and conflict we must overcome to gain both enlightenment and fulfillment in our existence. This isn’t an article on Buddhism, but the connection is helpful.

I love this quote because of its profound simplicity. “If you plant corn, corn will grow”. Sounds like something you would hear on a Hotels.com commercial from Captain Obvious, right? But its meaning is deeper than what you see on the surface. Perhaps similar to the verses in the Bible – “A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians) and “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully”. The connection with corn, or farming as is referenced in the bible, is a simple yet effective metaphor to illustrate the long term effect of near term actions.

To me its meaning reflects the connection between intention, effort, and reward. It can take a negative connotation (as “reap what you sow” suggests), or can be interpreted in a more positive context (as in, you get out what you put in). Regardless, the connection between intention, effort, and reward is important.

In both our personal and professional lives we make decisions every day that may not manifest themselves for some time. Our childhood prepares us for the challenges and opportunities life presents for us. Education prepares us for careers. Sports and other competitive activities sharpen our minds and our bodies, and develop cognitive and competitive skills that serve us later as adults.

Similarly in business, near term investments result in the ability to achieve long term objectives. Investing in a new batch of account managers should increase sales over time. Investing in new training should improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your staff. Starting a new branch or service offering should result in sustainable operations in the future.

Which brings me full circle to why I chose the quote for this blog. Recently I was asked by a group of new employees (recently out of college) what the keys to success were. My answer was simple:

• Know your job, and know it well – understand the process; trust the process; follow the process
• Do your job, and do it well – there is simply no substitute for hard work.
• Invest in yourself – Your development is YOUR responsibility. Education and homework doesn’t end with school/college.

And when it comes down to it, all these keys point to the same thing. You reap what you sow. If you plant corn, corn will grow. How much corn will depend on how much you plant. What kind of corn will depend on what kind you plant. Corn won’t grow where there is no sun. Nor will it grow at the wrong time of the year. You must know the rules, and follow the process set by years of experience.

So why are we so surprised in our lives when the outcome is something different than we thought? When our own personal or professional success is somehow different than we intended?

Did we do the right things to begin with? Were we intentional with what we wanted as an outcome? Did we have a plan and follow that plan, or did we simply lumber through an existence?

Did we put forth the effort and work hard on those intended results? Do we think that those who reap the rewards of a successful career (financially or emotionally, by the way) simply did so with an 8-5 hourly workload?

And did we take the time to invest in ourselves? Do we spend evenings and weekends setting aside time to invest in ourselves? To keep up with our industry? To study new processes and techniques that others aren’t using?

Its really quite simple – “If you plant corn, corn will grow”. Not tomatoes, or carrots, or beans, but corn. What are you planting?

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