Telling a Story

07 May

Up, down, around and sideways.

That’s a lot of directions. It’s about how many directions I feel pulled in lately. Admittedly, it’s led to me to have a hard time in nailing down a most recent blog post. Instead of one, clear, crystiallized idea that I want to run with, I’m feeling a lot of noise and chatter take over my head, with a million fleeting ideas and thoughts, but none that really stand out.

There’s some fantastic blogs out there I’ve been reading that I want to shout out to, and engage with, continuing the conversation with their writers. There’s some fantastic partners out there that I want to connect with further, understanding their passions and interactions with coffee, inviting them to continue growing and expanding their knowledge.

And today I’m going to acknowledge for myself that those posts will come. But they are not the posts I am writing today.

Today, when I quiet the noise in my head, there’s one story that’s been bubbling up over and over again, for weeks on end that I haven’t addressed. It’s the story of Phil. Phil’s story doesn’t have a lot to do with coffee, except that he lives at the Starbucks Support Center among many coffee enthusiasts and neighbor coffee trees. But Phil’s story does have to do with reflection. So that’s the story I’m going to tell.

Phil is a ficus tree that lives in my cubicle at the SSC in Seattle. Phil has been through a lot in his time in this building, including some unintended abuse and neglect.

But Phil has also been through a remarkable transformation. And that’s why I feel such a strong connection to this plant, and such a strong need to tell his story. Yes, you heard it. I’m telling a ficus tree’s story.

One afternoon in the depths of last winter, about mid-December, I wandered past the 6 Northeast copy room, headed for the kitchen and a late-day snack. At the SSC, as in most offices probably, it can be worthwhile to glance into the copy rooms to see what treasures have been left for others to claim – a good read on leadership or other corporate topic, a piece of artwork, a wireless headset. You just never know.

As I walked past on this particular day, a huge, sad-looking potted plant was poised in the corner, with a post-it note wedged between its branches.


My heart sank for the plant. Really?! Someone wanted to compost this big beautiful tree?! Sure it was in sad shape, it’s leaves were sparse, it was clearly suffering and in need of some TLC. And, while I could appreciate the sentiment that it at least be composted if it was to be put to death, something didn’t sit right with me. In my book, it’s a karmic crime to kill a tree. If it dies on it’s own, so be it, but I’ve rehabbed enough sad, misbegotten plants to know that it ain’t over till it’s over…and even often when you think a plant is done for and gone, it will often emerge with new life and surprise you. This “Please Compost” plant was sad, to be sure, but it wasn’t dead. And though someone was apparently willing to let it go, I couldn’t watch this thing be trashed.

I immediately grabbed the note out from the branches and scribbled a new one. “Please do not remove! This tree has been adopted,” with the intent to drag it out from the copy-room and over to my cubicle later that day. Assistance would be required to get the job done – as I mentioned, it was a big guy – probably 6′ in height accompanied by a 25+ gallon pot, and though I was slightly embarrassed to be asking for help to save tree, I believed in my mission enough and I let that give me the courage to ask for a few pairs of hands later that day. My coworkers were willing, and that evening the ficus tree claimed his spot outside my cubicle walls.

As different partners wandered past, one of the exclaimed “Phil! Oh, you’ve adopted Phil!” And that’s how I learned that this tree had a name. Phil the Ficus. I asked a few questions and learned a bit about his history, but that still didn’t shed any light on what had brought him to the terrible condition he was in presently. Nothing really explained it.

I observed him in his new home for the next several days, his condition wasn’t improving. And in fact, his health seemed to continually decline. Each day that I came into the office, another pile of yellowed leaves had fallen to the floor. The skepticism and comments from my coworkers flooded in.

“You seriously think you can save that thing?!”

“It’s a lost cause.”

“Would you just put it out of its misery already?”

I acknowledged each comment, and told the partner thank you, I know I’m crazy, but “You’ll see. He just needs some TLC. I have some ideas.” And I did. As I watched the leaves continue to yellow and drop each day, despite thorough waterings, I started to suspect radical action was going to be required. The ficus was going to get one helluva haircut.

On Christmas week, I brought a pair of heavy-duty cutting shears into work and late one night, the day before I left on vacation, I performed surgery. I wasn’t quite sure when I started how far I would take it – I knew that often for plants in disrepair, being cut back and allowed to re-grow was the best possible thing. But despite hours of research, I couldn’t find one single bit of information about how well a ficus tree would handle such action, and I hesitated to be so extreme. So I started gently – trimming back the vacant sections and dead branches so there was much less the plant had to sustain. But as I continued to cut, he still didn’t look happy. I knew what I had to do.

I cut him down to the stump, leaving only a few, tiny, green shoots that were growing from some of the lowest nodes and points on the trunk.

“Are you crazy?! You totally killed that thing!” At least ten people must have told me so.

“Just wait. You’ll see.”

If Phil had any chance of recovery, I knew this was it. Radical transformation. And in the process, I discovered the cause of all Phil’s problems. Unbeknownst to anyone, the holes built into the pot for drainage have never been cracked open. He couldn’t get oxygen, the soil couldn’t flush. He was suffocating. And, being intimated by the size of the plant, the size of the problem, nobody had bothered, or even thought, to check such a thing.

So, life for Phil began again from the ground up. A trimming of the old branches, and a few holes cut for proper drainage, and Phil was ready to begin his transformation.

Today, this is Phil.

You see, in many ways, his story is my story. A story of personal transformation from a point in life that felt much like being abandoned to a copy center for composting. A story of not giving up, despite the comments of others, or in my case, my own heart and mind. And last but not least, a story of second chances…and new beginnings.

And so I must find Phil a new home this week, my last week in the SSC before I move full-time to the Regional Office in Boston. But before I go, I had to tell Phil’s story – a story I take with me, along with lesson that he tought me:

Never give up, because there are no lost causes.

1 Comment

Posted by on May 7, 2012 in Reflection, To Be A Partner


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One response to “Telling a Story

  1. Kienan

    May 7, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    Great post!

    Every time I read something you write it inspires me to work on my own blog.


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