Rachel Esplin Odell | The Man from Song

Share this post:

Rachel Esplin Odell lives with her husband Scott Odell in Washington, D.C., where she is working and preparing for graduate school (see below).  She graduated from Harvard College with a bachelor's degree in East Asian Studies and Government in December 2009, after having grown up on a potato farm near Blackfoot, Idaho. She loves to discuss religion and politics in a spirit of enthusiasm and love.  She has a minor obsession with Breyers' all natural chocolate ice cream and she loves springtime in the nation's capital. 

For the first 21-and-a-half years of my life, I proceeded forward on a straightforward path. While that path involved choices and options, its projection was clear.  Preschool > elementary school > high school > college.  During college, I met my future husband Scott and we were married last July, just prior to my graduation in December.

Now what?

Now I am trying to not be like the man from Song.


“必有事焉而勿正,心勿忘,勿助長也。無若宋人然:宋人有閔其苗之不長而揠之者,芒芒然歸。謂其人曰:‘今日病矣,予助苗長矣。’其子趨而往視之,苗則槁矣。天下之不助苗長者寡矣。以為無益而舍之者,不耘苗者也;助之長者,揠苗者也。非徒無益,而又害之。”孟子, 《公孫丑上》2

“One must work at it, but do not aim at it directly. Let the heart not forget, but do not help it grow. Do not be like the man from Song. Among the people of the state of Song there was one who, concerned lest his grain not grow, pulled on it. Wearily, he returned home, and said to his family, ‘Today I am worn out. I helped the grain to grow.’ His son rushed out and looked at it. The grain was withered. Those in the world who do not help the grain to grow are few. Those who abandon it, thinking it will not help, are those who do not weed their grain. Those who help it grow are those who pull on the grain. Not only does this not help, but it even harms it.” Mencius 2A2

Source: istockphoto

My husband took last semester off from school to work while I finished college.  Now it’s my turn to work while he finishes.  So I am working a few part-time jobs that add up to more than full time – translating academic papers from Chinese to English, transcribing for Federal News Service, researching for a Georgetown professor.  In August, I’ll start a one-year fellowship in the China program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  In a year, after Scott has graduated (and maybe two years if Scott takes a year off to work first), we’ll both apply to graduate schools – law schools, maybe Ph.D. programs.

All that said, do I actually know with any certainty where we’ll be in a year? in two, three, five years? in 10?  No.  And for someone who had my entire future planned out – year-by-year – in grade school, the prospect of pulling on the grain in an attempt to “help it to grow” at times appears intensely tempting.

别人的社会调查照片 (20) Photo of Rachel Esplin Odell weeding on a farm outside a small Chinese village

But I resist.  I eat Breyers' ice cream and enjoy a Netflix subscription with my husband.  I listen to Ingrid Michaelson and Mozart on Pandora.  I ride my bike to work.  I read Les Mis on the Metro.  I serve with the youth group at my church.  I do yard work for a neighbor on Saturdays.  I sleep eight hours a night and take Sunday afternoon naps.  I write this blog post.

Conversely, in an effort to not abandon my grain, I weed and water it.  I write and I read and I contemplate and I pray.  I read the news and pen my thoughts in Facebook notes.  I practice being mom with my little sister who is quintessentially adolescent.  I work on my Chinese and meet with professionals in my field of interest.  I seek advice on grad school, on a career, on raising a family – and on the combination thereof.

Source:  istockphoto

There are still weeds in hard-to-reach parts of my field, and sometimes I catch myself pulling on certain stalks of grain.  But I’m working at it without aiming at it directly.  And hoping for a bumper crop.

Have you ever reached a point where you had achieved what you set out to do — and had the ‘now what' experience?  What did you do?

Have you ever felt like the Man from Song?  I have.  Why is it important to sometimes aim indirectly?  Any experiences you'd like to share?

Share this post:

Contact Us

Fill out this form and we will follow up to create a customized plan to help you build a smart growth organization.

Media & Press Inquiries

including requesting Whitney as a guest on your podcast

Media & Press Inquiries arrow_forward

Gain insight into growth, adaptability and agility

Download our free resources outlining the Accelerants of Growth—including books, podcasts and TEDtalks to help you move up your S Curve of Learning.