The Invisibility of the Catalyst

I watched the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel again recently. Well, twice actually. I love it so much. It is wholesome and full of wisdom. A line in it that I have heard many times before is,

‘I came to pay my respects. There’s nothing I respect more than someone planting trees under whose shade they may never sit.’

It brought to mind the conversations I have had recently with other systems thinking colleagues about, ‘the invisibility of the catalyst’. Yes, that’s us a lot of the time. We observe, we seek to understand and we work with and within the work ecosystems we engage with day in day out. We take actions that no-one will ever know about. Make plans that no-one will hear about. We manoeuvre in and around things like an invisible ghost, nudging, encouraging, guiding. We put the foundations down for what might come next. The very solid grounding to enable the next stage of change and growth to thrive.

We talked about how that felt. There is no glory. There are no thanks. Most people do not even know what we are doing. Then, we move on, knowing that we have shuffled what needed shuffling, supported what needed supporting and sometimes, removed what needed removing. We walk away and start on something else. It is a win that feels like a fail. It feels like a fail because we have been conditioned to perceive a positive or a ‘win’ as something we get recognition and glory for. But a true win is when we have planted the seeds that few even know are there, but they may benefit from in the future.

My words of encouragement to anyone working as the invisible catalyst is to look inside of you to feel your ‘win’. The inner self is the only person who needs to know. Comfort yourself that you planted those trees. The trees that will grow and thrive for many years to come. The trees that may even support other trees and encourage the growth of even newer trees.

The connection between the person and the legacy is sometimes invisible to the eyes of many but it is never invisible inside of yourself.


One thought on “The Invisibility of the Catalyst

  1. Thank you for your thought provoking post. The subject matter is something I often have struggles with. First of all, my personal effectiveness in how I think about the world, and how I engage with it and support others to reflect and think differently. Second, those frustrations when your heart is willing to make a difference but one does not see the immediate benefits, or worse feel like you are trying to push back a wave with your bare hands.

    I do not do it often enough but I appreciate the moments to reflect and think about the times where you feel you have planted a seed, where language, actions, practice has subtly changed in others to help make the world a better, more thoughtful place.

    A friend of mine shared a frustration on a similar line but added that we may not see the benefits of thinking and acting differently sometimes even in our lifetime but what we may be doing is sharing, cascading, letting ideas grow and develop and emerge on their own terms. The ‘recognition’ may never come, and perhaps we should welcome that because it is not about what ‘I’ achieved, but about what is achieved.

    When a seed is planted, it needs to be nurtured to be allowed to grow, but once growing and turning to the light the shade belongs to all who welcome it.


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