Four Things I Learned in the Bush

My wife and I met tree-planting in Northern B.C. That was the best thing that came out of that experience, but there were a few things I learned about life from that job as well. I think everyone should have a tree-planting-type job at some point during their life time. You can learn a lot from a job like that.

1. Hard Work Pays Off

Planting trees is all about speed, accuracy, and mental toughness. The planter gets paid by the number of trees that go in the ground each day, so the faster you move, the more money you make. That means that dawdling in the morning, taking long lunch breaks, walking slowly, and daydreaming, all make a huge impact on your daily totals. We worked really hard—from 6am to 6pm every day. Our longest run was 26 days straight without a day off. It was insane. It was incredibly hard. And it allowed me to realize that hard work pays off. This principle has served me well for everything in life, even when the pay has no relationship to the hard work (ie, working in Christian schools).

2.  Focusing on the Task at Hand is Under-rated

I had a buddy who could not focus during the day. He would think about his girlfriend, think about holidays, think about food, think about theology…anything except the trees he was planting. And he planted about half as many trees as the rest of us. Great tree-planting means focusing all day long on “the next three trees.”  In today’s multi-tasking world, we often think we can do several things at the same time, but studies have shown this simply isn’t true. Most of the important things in life need our focused energy.

3.  Competition is Good and Bad

Every night after dinner we would have to yell out our totals in front of the whole crew to the foreman. Most tree planters are competitive. This intense competition spurred us on to work harder, faster and more cleverly than the next guy. But competition isn’t always good. At one contract, the rules changed and we were paid by the area covered, not but the trees planted. My partner and I could not adjust. It meant spacing our trees as far apart as possible, not as close together as possible. So at the end of a run, I would have more trees left over in my bag and he would have to help me “plant out.” This irritated him and he vehemently expressed this to me.  So being competitive, I spaced closer together so that I would finish first. We were so competitive and we spaced them so close together, that the next day our foreman made us re-plant the entire area, for a whole day (without pay). Competition unbridled can cause a lot of unnecessary grief.

4.  Attention to Detail Matters

Tree-planting is also about accuracy. Every day a “checker” goes into your area and “throws a plot” by drawing a 6m circle, then counting and digging up the trees that are inside it. The checker wasn’t the most popular person on the block. But planting fast and planting accurately was always a delicate balance. If you were too careful, you didn’t make any money. If you weren’t careful enough, you had to re-plant (for free) or the crew may not even get paid for the work on the block. Great planters figured out how to put the right amount of attention to details while working quickly. That’s a great lesson to learn in life as well— attention to detail matters.

I don’t ever want to go back to tree-planting. But I have to say that the lessons I learned in the bush have served me well in my work in Christian schools. And finding an awesome wife in the bush was pretty great too!

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