Growing fast and slow

Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world and can reach 30 metres in height.

And despite being a member of the grass family, it's strong stuff - it's still used for scaffolding in Hong Kong.

I have some bamboo in my mini tropical garden in London and when it was first planted I marvelled at how fast it grew.

Every day I came back to look at it, it was noticeably taller. In a few months it was taller than me. Not long after that, it was taller than the first storey of the house.

The funny thing is though, I could stand there all day looking at that bamboo and never see it move.

I think life change is like that. We hold out for the flashes of insight, the big turning points, the landmark opportunities but really the best progress is made steadily and iteratively.

If we just keep growing in the right direction (instead of going for a burst of activity then nothing for weeks), our progress can be amazing.

If you're searching for a way to make a living while also making a life, you can get there if you just keep playing it out - day by day, project by project. Keep noticing the things you enjoy and the things that put you in flow and put them into creating things people really want.


PS. If you're in London, don't miss Scanners Night tonight with the wonderful Roman Krznaric on The 6 Habits of Highly Empathic People.

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  • Great post!

  • Thankyou Martin!

  • You made me smile 🙂 A great comparison John!  I'm writing my PhD at the moment and I'm learning the art of small but systematic steps day by day. It's difficult but satisfactory, when I look back 🙂 Thank you!

  • Thanks Bebe. Good luck with it!

  • Great lesson. Measure progress over time.

  • Great lesson. Measure progress over time.

  • Great post John, thanks for sharing! When we have a strong intention and make a few baby steps to the right direction, the initial momentum serves like a seed in our project life. The rest, nature's timing will take over 🙂

  • Thanks Charles. It's amazing building a business how we forget the little achievements along the way until we look back a year or so and remember the time we had no website or had never done a talk or were still worried if we could sell our stuff!

  • Michael

    Thank you John for the motivating and inspirational words. I love bamboo, my favourite plant in the world.

  • Carolscottcounselling

    Great post John and got me thinking.I agree baby steps turn into leaping strides but I also think its about knowing your own rhythmn. By utilising those short intense bursts of activity I can get a lot done and when its backed up by a more slower steady pace, which goes against my natural  rhythmn, I can see progress. 

  • Portia Kumalo

    Thank you for the insight i can identify with it in the last few months ive been working to grow my business in coaching and personal development. i planted a seed every day i nurture it
    ive watched it gently begin to grow
    im now starting to see the progress. when i started i thought the growth and development would be instant and would require little work.your blog has given me today

  • I see the wisdom in this blog! You are right.We always wait for the big break through,the big idea,the big splash!But slowly is how most lasting things in life happen.
    Thank you

  • David_hicks


    I've been following your blog for ages and this is the most simple and insightful post yet.

    Because for all the hoopla around the excitement of quitting ones job and making Play real, it involves commitment, time dedication, stoic pursuit of the dream and guts. It is, in other words quite tough to pull off.

    Plus, if you factor in to a normal salary all the hidden benefits you get with a full time job, especially pension and insurances, you need to earn a really good consistent wage on play projects to get close to what you used to live on,, and that is itself hard to do.

    I've been playing for 12 years now and still havent got it all right!

    Growing it like bamboo is the best philosophy......

  • Mgibsonbarton

    My life changed in seconds when our entire department was unexpectedly closed down and we were made redundant.  Luckily, following John's advice in the book, I’d been working on a play project - producing my own monthly e-newsletter for people in my field and I was fortunate to quickly secure a new job (hurrah!) by advertising my sudden availability to my 3000 readers.   But at the time that I was being told my job was redundant I really wished then I worked even harder at my other play project.  While it is already bringing in some income it’s not ready to step into full time.  I would counsel, use your Wednesday play day well and build your own play project before your life changes in seconds too.   

  • They say 'when the student is ready, the teacher will appear...'
    I have purchased John's book and am taking tomorrow off to read it cover to cover and start my own play book
    Over the last few years I have shifted direction from psychotherapist, founding a coaching charity, moving into training and getting the therapeutic coaching training accredited.
    I know I am sitting on a great, ground breaking product but have a key skill set!!
    I really see the point of the story and it reminds me of the daffodil principle

    'On turning a corner in the road I came across a cottage surrounded by a sea of thousands of yellow daffodils in full bloom.
    At the gate of the cottage was a sign which read

    'Here are the answers to the questions you are asking
    1. started 1956
    2. one at a time
    3. one woman, two arms, two legs, one head...'

  • Lucy Johnson

    Nice post John.