My Great Aunt Lil was a gardener. Every year she would have a wonderful garden full of all sorts of vegetables that sprung like magic from the black dirt. She would tell me that in life you have to stay “green like tomatoes, because once you have ripened, the next stage is to begin to rot!” This is an interesting saying from a short 4’10” woman who was over 90 years old at the time. But she modeled it in her life. Her house was full of books which she read constantly in her attempt to learn more.
Keeping that humble attitude on learning is quite healthy. Former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden is an inspiring model of personal growth. He continually developed himself, and pushed his players to do the same, in order for them to reach their potential. One of his sayings was, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Wooden recognized that the greatest obstacle to growth isn’t ignorance, it’s knowledge. The more you learn, the easier it is to have an attitude that you know it all, that you have arrived. If that happens, you will begin to rot like my Aunt Lil said. You will stop learning and become unteachable. You will not improve.
Wooden kept learning and growing, even while he was at the top of his profession. After he had already won the NCAA championship, an accomplishment most college coaches never will achieve, he scrapped the offense he used for years and learned a completely new one in order to maximize the potential talents of one player, Lewis Alcindor, now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The result was the Bruins won three consecutive national championships. Wooden holds the record for the most national championships in college basketball and was one of the greatest coaches to have ever lived.
It’s true that when you remain teachable, your potential is limitless. This also requires that you also never stay satisfied with your current accomplishments or “rest on your laurels” as we would say in Missouri. Rick Warren said, “The greatest enemy of tomorrow’s success is today’s success.” Thinking you have finally arrived, when you accomplish a goal has the same effect as believing you know it all. It’s another characteristic of destination disease.
Successful people know that wins, like losses are only temporary. You have to keep growing if you want to experience a continual string of successes. Charles Handy once said, “It is one of all paradoxes of success that the things and ways which got you there are seldom those that keep you there.” So while it is great to celebrate a success, it is wrong to cease growing and stay in celebration mode all the time.
My encouragement to you today is to always seek to stay a little green in life, because once you ripen all the way, you will begin to rot!