Storytelling at Work
January 20, 2021
Five Feet Off the Ground


Many centuries ago after years of wandering alone in the forests of India, a young seeker of truth found himself, hungry, thirsty, and exhausted, at the entrance of the most remote ashram in the land. Gathering whatever strength he had left, he knocked on the ashram's massive wooden door and asked the gatekeeper for shelter, a request granted, under one condition -- at sunrise, he must be on his way.

Thrilled at his good fortune, the young man agreed to the condition and was escorted to a room with a mat on the floor, a tray of food, and a faded photo of a bearded man whom he assumed was the resident guru.

Sleep came easy to him that night, grateful as he was for a good meal and a chance to rest his weary bones. And rest he did. Deeply. That is, until the door to his room swung wildly open and there, standing just a few feet away, holding a small candle, loomed the man in the faded photo.

"Stand up now!" he commanded. "Stand up and follow me. We don't have much time."

And with those twelve words, the Master turned and exited -- the young seeker doing all he could to follow behind. Outside, a violent storm was raging. Lightning crackled. Thunder boomed. The wind and the rain were relentless.

For an hour they walked, deeper and deeper into a forest, the young seeker having no clue where they were going or why. And then, without warning, at the foot of a gigantic tree, the Master stopped, turned, and uttered a single word. "Climb!"


The young lad, sensing the perfection of the moment, grabbed the lowest branch, pulled himself up, and began climbing -- not an easy task by any means. Especially not tonight. Not in this darkness. And not in this storm. Still, he persevered, branch-by-branch, handhold-by-handhold, breath-by-breath, his pathway up illuminated only by occasional flashes of lightning.

How long he climbed, no one knows. Nor does anyone know how many times he almost fell to what would have been a certain death. The only thing known for sure is that he made it to the top, and, upon arriving, holding tight with one hand, raised the other to the heavens in a bold salute to his accomplishment.

And then, no time to lose, he began his descent, an effort far more difficult than his ascent, his muscles now fatigued, his hands cramped, the massive tree swaying precariously in the wind.

An hour passed. And then, when the young boy finally reached the lowest branch, just five feet off the ground, the Master let out a ferocious roar.

"WATCH OUT!" he screamed. "WATCH OUT!!!"

Stunned, the boy hopped down, stood to his full height, and approached.

"Oh Enlightened One," he began, "please forgive my ignorance, but I am confused. All during my ascent, through the lightning and thunder, you said nothing to me -- not a single word. Many times, I was almost blown from the tree and yet you remained silent. The same held true for my descent, an even more difficult task. Not once did you issue a word of caution. Not once did you advise or encourage me. But now, just five feet off the ground, you shout your warning? This makes no sense to me, no sense at all."

"Precisely, my son. Precisely!" came the reply. "All during your ascent, you knew how dangerous the conditions were -- and because you did, you hung on for dear life. No words of caution from me were needed. My words would have only distracted you. And the same held true for your descent. But just five feet off the ground, when you assumed your work was done, that was the time of greatest danger. That was the time you could have been injured. And that is why I spoke. Know this, my son, the most dangerous time is always just before completion."

FOR YOUR REFLECTION: All of us, at some point in our lives, have committed to a difficult task imbued with great meaning. Maybe no one else knew of our adventures and the obstacles standing in our way, but we did. We knew the path forward was difficult. We knew we would need to rise to the occasion.

If this describes you, know that you have also had your own climbing-a-tree-in-the-middle-of-a-raging-storm moment and also your tree descent moment -- the time when all of the forces within you needed to be marshaled.

Just like the young seeker awakened from a deep sleep and was asked to accomplish the seemingly impossible, you too are being called. You, too, no matter how much effort you've expended, are five feet off the ground.

What do you need to be more conscious of as you approach the completion of your project? What tasks require your full attention? What do you need to be most mindful of as you hop down from your branch, just five feet off the ground?

Photo #1: Jordan Whitfield, Unsplash
Photo #2: Sabastian Unrau
Storytelling for the Revolution

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at January 20, 2021 09:55 AM

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Storytelling at Work is a blog about the power of personal storytelling – why it matters and what you can do to more effectively communicate your stories – on or off the job. Inspired by the book of the same name, the blog features "moment of truth" stories by the author, Mitch Ditkoff, plus inspired rants, quotes, and guest submissions by readers.

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Storytelling for the Revolution
Storytelling for the Revolution is Mitch Ditkoff's newly published book about the power of personal storytelling to elevate the conversation on planet Earth. Provocative. Evocative. And fun. YOU have stories to tell. This book will help you tell them.
Storytelling at Work
"The world is not made of atoms," wrote the poet, Muriel Rukeyser. "It's made of stories." Learn how to discover, honor, and unpack the stories of yours that show up "on the job" in Mitch Ditkoff's award-winning 2015 book, Storytelling at Work.
Do you want to know more about the book before buying it? Click here for Mitch's response to frequently asked questions about Storytelling at Work – the perfect book for people who think they have no time to read.
The Workshop
Storytelling is an "unconscious competency" – an ability we all have that all too often remains inaccessible to us. Enter the Storytelling at Work workshop – a simple way to activate this powerful, innate skill.
Wisdom Circles
Want to establish a culture of storytelling in your organization or community? Looking for a simple way to help people to share their meaningful, memorable stories with each other? Here's how.
Podcasts & Videos
Click here to view and listen to a series of interviews with the author of this blog. Go beyond the written word. Listen. Feel. Elevate the conversation. Understand what the big deal is about personal storytelling.
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If you like this blog, you might also like Mitch's other two blogs: The Heart of Innovation and The Heart of the Matter. Mitch is also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.
Idea Champions
When Mitch isn't writing, he's captaining the good ship Idea Champions, a leading edge innovation consulting and training company based in Woodstock, NY. What their clients say.