During my tenure as Monterey Chapter president of NNOA at the Naval Postgraduate School in 2012, I helped organize and host the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. breakfast at the historic Del Monte Hotel as a means of spreading his message throughout the campus and community. The event was a memorable one, as it brought people together from all aspects of life around a positive message of acceptance, diversity, peace, and understanding. While there, however, someone told me the quote below that continues to resonate with me to this day. The quote, by Dr. King, states:
“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree [today].” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On the surface this quote can be interpreted as advice to keep hope alive in the face of adversity, but over the years I’ve discovered that there’s much more depth and meaning to this simple quote than initially meets the eye. I’ve elaborated on a few other perspectives, based on personal introspection as I’ve journeyed through my 20-year naval career.
Yes, have hope — but also plan for success.
There’s a subtle fallacy in Dr. King’s quote that many people fall prey to from time to time, myself included. This first portion of the quote, “if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces.” leads the reader to consider something that frankly, is impossible, as tomorrow is always 100% unknown to you, me, Dr. King, and everyone else on the planet. Intellectually we all accept that no one can tell what the future holds, but we rarely live that way. Do not be fooled by what might seem as an elementary point as you might miss powerful implications of this simple concept.
How many times have you suffered through days, weeks or months worrying about a “known” future that was destined to be painful and sad, only to get through it stronger and better than ever? How many times did you “know that tomorrow” was going to be a total disaster, but in the end prevailed? I have tortured myself this way many times over the years, and chances are you have as well. What “tomorrow” are you dreading? The loss of a relationship? Not being selected for a promotion?
What we “know about tomorrow” has and always will be a virtual experience in our mind’s eye and nothing more. As tomorrow unfolds, success is also a real, viable option that may present itself, but you won’t be able to perceive it if you’re swirling in a negative mindset. Some would call such a circumstance a self-fulfilling prophecy. Thankfully the same calculus also works for positive outcomes in your life, so why not plan for success? As a matter of fact, why not plan for extreme success? What does planning for success look like? It looks like planting an apple tree that takes years to bear fruit, when every data point in the universe suggests immediate destruction. It looks like living a happy, fulfilling life after a heartbreak or personal loss. And for some, it might look like living a life of love and peace when the world seems to turn against them.
Yes, have hope — but never stop moving toward success
Anybody can make a plan and attempt to execute it (often giving up after the first bump in the road), but it takes a special mindset to navigate life’s obstacles, keep a positive outlook, and maintain the tenacity required to execute a plan to its very end. Unfortunately, for many people who are trapped in a virtual future world of despair that’s going to destroy them, maintaining momentum towards success can be a challenging task; mainly because of their own negative self-talk, and the emotions they allow themselves to feel. For example, when you’re sad and depressed, getting off the couch can feel like climbing Mount Everest.
Taking deliberate, drastic action toward success in a consistent and relentless fashion is a powerful strategy that goes far beyond the reach of hope alone. Many times taking action to plant our apple trees begins with what we allow ourselves to think and feel. It is not unreasonable to project that life will throw you a curveball at some point, and undesirable things will happen that cause you pain. Bad things will happen, no doubt about it, it’s all part of life. But when that time comes and all seems lost, how do you motivate yourself to take action and keep planting your apple trees? Instead of living in virtual hell, I would challenge you to allow yourself to virtually experience in your mind’s eye the bounty of a future harvest that does not yet exist, and allow that emotion to inspire you to move toward success by planting your apple seeds of hope right there and then.
Yes, have hope — but let it feed your faith.
During a 12 -month deployment to Baghdad, Iraq, our commander repeatedly told us during his pep-talks that “Hope is not a method.” Hope, it would seem, is an expectation of a specific future outcome. Faith, on the other hand, is trusting that in the end all will work out as it should. A lot of people have hope, but very little faith. It’s sad to meet people who avoid going after the things they want most in life (promotions, relationships, health, etc.) simply because they’re afraid of painful shattered hopes that might not manifest into reality. That’s because if things don’t work out as expected, hope can backfire and leave us with huge emotional scars. An excerpt of Jim Carrey’s quote below is a powerful reminder of why faith is more powerful than hope:
“Hope is a beggar. Hope walks through the fire and Faith leaps over it.” ~ Jim Carrey
Those with a strong sense of faith can perceive the bigger picture. They know that there are many paths to success, and that a single experience is only a tiny piece of a much larger puzzle. People who are fueled by faith plant their apple trees, but do not make their happiness or their drive contingent upon the reaping of apples. The apple tree is merely one of many paths toward a goal, not the goal itself.
What is the goal then? Only you can answer that question correctly. But I remain certain that if you keep planning for success, keep moving forward, and keep strengthening your faith in the journey — your life’s purpose will become crystal clear.