Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Here we go. It’s that time of year where we approach the brink of craziness.
Thanksgiving is upon us, but Christmas has encroached the mall, while the inner consumer within us all is assaulted by the marketing ploys or the big box (and small box) stores as we are almost forced to move past the Thanksgiving holiday before it has even begun. It’s almost a formality holiday now. Just something that must be celebrated before we move along to “The Big One” (aka Christmas).
It’s pretty sad, don’cha think? I do. How a holiday that was begun with such profound roots by some very thankful (and rightly so) people, has been moved to where we find it now. I mean really, how many Thanksgiving dinners have been rescheduled or missed completely in the last few years with the implementation of the “Thanksgiving Day Door Busters”. And what’s extra sad is that we have brought it on ourselves. The big guys give us what we want. They aren’t bad people, they are just trying to get our money and we want to trade it for the things that are important to us (an excellent argument for why we should be demanding better food — because if we ask, then we can get it).
But, let’s say that you are one of those few, proud, resolute and brave souls that are either too mired in tradition or too incapacitated by tryptophan to stumble out the door and wait in line somewhere. If you are one of these individuals (bless your heart), maybe, once the turkey is gone and the pies are broken out of the oven, you will take a moment to go around the table and give everyone a chance to announce loudly and proudly something that they are thankful for. It’s a great tradition/pastime and it often brings to mind the things that we might take as everyday and commonplace. Things that maybe we take for granted and shouldn’t.
This is great. We are making progress. I have had my little rant about commercialism running rampant and how we need to think about what’s really important. Awesome. If I stopped here, I would feel like every other individual who’s putting thoughts out there for people to ponder and criticize this time of year.
But maybe there’s more. I have found myself thinking about what I should be thankful for. I mean really thankful for. Aside from the obvious things (faith in my God, Family and friends that love me, etc.…), what’s the flip side?
First, let’s consider this interesting thought: more often than not, we have to really TRY to be thankful. Have you thought about that before? It is not a second nature type of thing, something that’s always the natural reaction. For me, it often takes a conscious effort to really be thankful for something.
Realizing this begs the question, “What should I be thankful for that I’m normally not?”
Working as a farmer, starting a business, and carrying on relationships with friends and family have all brought struggles. But that’s good. Something I should be thankful for. Here are a few things I have decided to be thankful for this year…
I’m thankful for failures. I know. I said it. Failure. There…I said it again. I hate failing. I live my life trying not to. I think we all feel pretty similarly on the topic and we have all heard the story of Edison and the light bulb and how many times he failed before he got it right. Good for him. But really, the times where I have failed often stick out much better in my mind compared to the times that I have really succeeded.
As I worked for a year and a half at Polyface Farm in Virginia, I was learning constantly. For a while, I was in charge of all of the pigs that we were raising on the main farm. There were hundreds of pigs that I raised and that made it successfully to the processor.
Now, rest assured, I learned while I was taking care of them, but let me tell you that it was the mistakes and failures that I made during the time that I was taking care of them that taught me the most. If one animal would get sick, and I felt like the cause was something that I could have prevented, it was a lesson that was burned into my mind. Next time I wouldn’t make that same mistake.
Be thankful for failures. If a raccoon gets into your chicken house, you are going to be sure to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Those 12 birds that died are going to open your eyes and you will make sure that the rest that you raise won’t come to the same fate. Don’t be crushed and decide that raising birds isn’t for you. You can do it. Just learn from the mistake. Be thankful for it.
I’m thankful for tough times. Sometimes things happen that are just out of our control. The storm knocks the corn down. The cows get into the garden (or goats! Even worse…). You get a bad batch of laying pullets from the hatchery and fifty percent of them die due to no fault of yours, which sets you back on your egg production come spring. Your water lines freeze and break which results with you going out to fill the animal’s water twice a day, and dude…it’s really cold out there.
Things happen. It’s tough. But keep moving. You can do it. It’s not the “Mountain Top” moments that define us, but rather the trail that you had to follow in order to attain the summit. Yes, it might sound like a fortune cookie — but it’s true.
I’m thankful for mentors.
Find yourself a good mentor, but remember that you can learn just as much from a bad mentor. I think it’s easy to forget the effect that the leaders in our lives have on us. I’m not just talking about parental figures or your favorite boss, and how cool they are. Nope. I’m talking about the long term effects that your time following a mentor brings. I personally can say with great confidence that in some ways I learned more for the worst boss I ever had than I did from the best. I was able to see it in the moment which made things a little easier, but it still was a tough time. He was my mentor, and the more time I spent with him the more I learned about how to manage people and how to value an individual. I learned these things by noticing the lack of them, rather than seeing them implemented in a healthy way.
I’m thankful for the poor leadership that I have worked under as much as I am for the good. If it wasn’t for the bad, I wouldn’t be able to see the good as clearly.
Time for self-searching.
While I was at Polyface Farm, there was a day that was cold enough to bust the waterlines that we had laid out. The following week, it would thaw during the day and freeze at night. This resulted in the misting water landing on trees and bushes where it formed icicles that clung to everything, and it was one of the prettiest things that I have ever seen. After I looked past the fact that I had to fix a pipe (a pretty easy task), I understood the result of the busted pipe was more than worth the trouble it caused.
There. I have said my bit. These are some of the things I’m grateful for this year. In fact, these things are close to the top. But what’s at the top of your list? I would encourage you to really dig for the things that maybe are blessings in disguise.
Maybe your first instinct is to think that they are not worthy of thankfulness. Maybe you are right. But maybe you are wrong — think about it.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I’m thankful that you read this to the end.
Now about that turkey…
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