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More Than A Résumé: The Story of One Ripe Fig

By on July 28, 2015 – 9:51 am  13 Comments

Jan Stanley, MAPP '10, was a director of learning systems and leadership development before leaving the corporate world to create her own map of a road less taken. Jan's focus is now squarely on her passion of applying positive psychology through the use of poetry, mindfulness, collaboration, and ritual, woven together into ceremonies of well-being. Jan served as a facilitator for the U.S. Army Master Resilience Training program. She is a faculty member of the Celebrant Foundation and Institute, where she teaches others about the beauty and benefits of ceremony. Full bio. Jan's articles are here.



So much can be accomplished in a lifetime. At today’s pace, most of us are on to the next task before we’ve acknowledged our success on the last. “If I had it to do over again, I would enjoy my victories a lot more,” Billie Jean King once said. She’s right about that. Savoring our good experiences can bring us additional rounds of positive emotions like joy and belonging and pride.

One approach to savoring our successes is to fashion them into résumé-ready bullet points. After we explore what went well and what lessons were learned, I ask my clients, “How would you incorporate this accomplishment into your résumé?” I’m not asking because I want them to update their résumés. I ask because I want them to see the impact of their effort and where it fits in the scheme of their professional lives. Instead of just celebrating with a drink (also fun and important), we’ve taken the time to put the achievement into perspective. We’ve drawn meaning from it.

In the life of an employee and the life of an organization, these are important matters. I believe in the value of accomplishments, and in building a résumé that highlights the best of them. Yet I don’t believe that a résumé, even a very good one, tells the whole story.

In a recent column, The Moral Bucket List, David Brooks wrote of eulogy virtues versus résumé virtues. “The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful,” Brooks writes. A lengthy résumé with important accomplishments is good, but is that how we’ll be remembered? Maybe kindness or generosity are more memorable qualities than any project we brought in on time. I think Brooks is on to something.

I recently attended a memorial service at a local assisted living complex. The ceremony was to honor the lives of several residents who had died in the past few months. Family members, nursing staff, and fellow residents shared stories of what they remember about their loved ones. Because I live in a university town where many residents have lived fascinating lives, there were stories about folks who’ve done brilliant work, written highly acclaimed books, and traveled the world doing it. One such person is Neil.

Neil lived in many places around the globe, from Africa to New Zealand. He took pride in fluently speaking nine languages. When it was time for Neil’s wife, Meg, to speak at the recent memorial, she told a simple story which she said summed up Neil and his life. Here is what she said.

The two of them were living in Ningi, a remote village in northeast Nigeria, 38 miles from a paved road, and 125 miles to Kano, where the couple could pick up their mail. Because of this, they grew most of their own food. There was a sole fig tree on the property where they lived. Neil loved figs and couldn’t wait for the figs on this tree to grow and ripen. As the season arrived, only one fig sprouted on the tree. This didn’t deter Neil. Perhaps it made that one fig all the more precious.

Water was in very short supply in the little village. Neil had arranged for a neighbor to draw one bucket of water from his well each day before dawn, a well shared with the only medical clinic in town. When he awoke at 6 am, Neil would boil the water over kerosene burners, then pour it through porcelain candles and an aluminum filter to purify it. Any drinkable water went into jars. Neil would then take the muddy residue which remained in the filter out to the fig tree to water it. Neil performed this same ritual every day, anticipating the great pleasure of one ripe fig on some future day.

Each morning after sunrise, Neil would touch the fig. “Not today,” he would say and go on about his work. One day, after touching the fig, Neil said, “Today’s the day.” His efforts had paid off and they would enjoy a ripe fig with dinner.

Later that morning, an unexpected guest, a friend, arrived at their doorstep. No word had gotten through about this arrival in advance, due to the remote nature of their living conditions. Not to worry. Meg secured goat meat from the local butcher’s table and prepared a curry for the noon meal.

As the three sat down to eat, Neil remembered the fig. “Oh, one minute,” he said, and left the table. He returned, fig in hand. Without hesitation, Meg remembered, Neil offered the fig to the guest, as if this had been its intended purpose all along. The guest was appreciative and enjoyed the fig in the way we might enjoy a fig we bought at the local grocery store. Neil never mentioned the care that he had provided the fig tree each day, and his wife Meg didn’t either.

“That’s who Neil was,” Meg wisely and lovingly concluded. Of course, the nine languages, the books and countless accomplishments were who Neil was, too. But in the end, it was the story of one ripe fig that captured Neil’s life best.

How can we follow Neil’s lead in living our lives? One way is by going after our dreams, as he certainly did. As we accomplish good things, we can savor and highlight them in a well written résumé. But we should also remember that we are more than our résumés. How we move through our lives is the larger story about us. Carry on with today’s priorities and, like Neil and the story of one ripe fig, find ways to let your most virtuous self shine through as you do.
 


 
References

Brooks, D. (2015, April 11). The moral bucket list. The New York Times.

Bryant, F. & Veroff, J. (2007) Savoring: A new model of positive experience.. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Gregoire, Carolyn. (2013, November 18). What your ‘life story’ really says about you. The Huffington Post.

King, L. A. (2001). The health benefits of writing about life goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 798-807.

York, S. (2000). Remembering Well: Rituals for Celebrating Life and Mourning Death. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Photo Credit: via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses
Savor the victory courtesy of GavinZ
Carved eulogy courtesy of SunshinyPuff
One lone fig courtesy of Mr. Greenjeans
Touch the fig courtesy of nesson-marshall
Offered the fig courtesy of mrjorgen

13 Comments »

  • Tracy says:

    What a touching story and beautifully told. Character strengths and virtues so much more meaningful than work skills and resumes.

  • Shmuel Shimshoni says:

    How true! Throughout the 70 years one spends during a lifetime man has experienced more than 25,000 days. During all that time at least one thing was achieved each day. yet his monument will never be inscribed with his achievements, his wealth or the properties he owned. The only thing he will be remembered for, is how he was perceived as a person.

  • Jan Stanley says:

    Thank you for adding your kind thoughts and insights, Tracy and Shmuel Shimshoni! You have both captured my thoughts when I first heard Neil’s wife, Meg, tell the story of the fig. It was truly how she wished him to be remembered, as a kind and generous man.

  • Judy Krings says:

    How poignant, Jan. this lovely tribute story reminds me to ask myself about legacy and what would I want written on my tombstone. If Neil has a tombstone, I could see I lovely fig as you have in your photo here, joyfully adorning it.

    His wife has to be a very special lady to share his virtues in such a wonderful tribute. I would say he spoke 10 languages. The 10th one, the language of LOVE for all. Great article, Jan.

  • Jan Stanley says:

    Judy, you have such a way with words and images. A fig on the tombstone would be a perfect symbol, and a 10th language – the language of love! That is just perfect. Thanks so much, Judy!

  • Judy Krings says:

    Thanks for your kind and generous comments, Jan. Your writing is exquisitely inspiring.

  • This article made me tear up, Jan. Thank you for being someone who embodies eulogy virtues (as well as resume ones).

    A beautiful story. Beautifully told.

  • Jan Stanley says:

    Shannon, Thank you for your comment, which made me tear up! You, too, embody both resume and eulogy virtues, and do so with a young family and meaningful, exciting work. I don’t know how you do it, but I am sure glad that you do, as you shine your beautiful light for so many of us to follow!

  • Homaira says:

    What a lovely article! And what a touching way to remember Neil. Thank you Jan – for reminding us of our eulogy virtues and of honouring both head and heart.

  • Thank you for your wisdom and grace, Jan, and for sharing the touching, wonderful tribute to Neil, from his wife. Your beautiful, inspiring writing,(and the comments above) touched my heart, lifted me up, and remind me that caring and loving matter.

  • Jan Stanley says:

    Homaira and Elaine, Thank you both so much for your very kind comments about Neil and the fig. It was such a tender moment to hear at a memorial – I am so touched that you both were able to pick up on the caring, love and eulogy values. While the story was about Neil, it is also quite telling that his wife Meg noticed Neil’s kindness and chose to share it. So often those moments can pass by quickly and we forget. I bet they were one sweet couple!

  • Clive Leach says:

    I thanked you Jan via Twitter when I first read and retweeted this beautiful story. What I want to let you know now is how often I have drawn on it since in my workshops and coaching sessions. It just seems to resonate so well with people and is such a powerful way to engage them in exploring, owning and appreciating their own character strengths and of course those of the people around them. So thank you once again! Clive 🙂

  • Jan Stanley says:

    Dear Clive – I am so very grateful for the comment that you left about the fig story. I was deeply moved by it when I heard it told by Meg, Neil’s wife, at his memorial. I am so happy that you have found a way to integrate it into your coaching and consulting practices in a way that connects people to character strengths. Your kindness is evident in sending me this note (a eulogy strength, indeed)! I do hope that our paths will cross one day in person. I would love to learn more from you and hear the “fig” stories that I’m sure you carry with you, too. Thanks so much for this delightful note! Jan

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