The long slow growth of beautiful things

The good things in life take a long time to develop. What good is a goal if it is easily achieved? In the past, humans had to hunt and farm for their food. Just setting enough food aside for winter took months. Developing a productive farm took years. The work done by one generation would benefit the generations to come.

All of this has changed. We are a society that lives, quite literally paycheck to paycheck. How many times a day does the average person think about how their grandchildren will live? It is so easy for us to buy anything we want. We forget how food can be grown from the ground, how animals can be raised or hunted for meat. We no longer create things for ourselves. Instead, we work on other people’s projects at work and then spend money to consume goods others have made at home.

In forgetting how to create the things we want for ourselves, we also have forgotten their value. We value everything in terms of money, when money is about the most worthless thing in the world. What is of true value is the experience and the art of creating something new.

We also forget the price of things. It is easy to eat meat from animals that were raised far away, when it comes in neat packages from the store. It is a harder thing to kill an animal to eat. It is easy to buy clothes that were made by sweatshop labor. The easy way in this world is to live a certain life, consuming all we can and buying convenience. We kill time, when time is all that we have.

I advocate a different way. A way where we learn to create. Where our net worth is not what we can buy, but what we can create. It is hard to do more in life when we are already working hard, but in the end it is the only way to get ahead. Our ancestors knew a secret- that a better life is created not so much through hard work, but through strategic work and time. Hundreds of dollars can be saved in a year by growing vegetables and keeping chickens or rabbits for little work. By putting a little extra, we can multiply what we have with time. A seed, some soil, and time is food. It takes months to grow a good crop, a year or more to mature mead. But in the end, the things that we make with our own hands are cheaper and better quality than anything we might buy.

By growing our own food, making our own mead or beer, and doing our own work wherever possible, we not only save money, we combat a culture of consumption and learn valuable skills. Some things may be difficult to learn, like fixing our own cars, or learning to do basic maintenance at our houses. But after a few hours of learning a skill and practicing it, we are left with a finished product. There is no better feeling than knowing you just took a step forward, learned a new thing, and started saving money for the future. And if it was hard work, remember that all of these skills get easier with time.

It is sometimes very hard in this culture to begin. We have all been taught that being entertained is a reward; that the ideal state is vegetating on the couch. It is very hard to overcome this mentality. It took me many false starts to begin to enjoy creating as much as consuming. Once you make it a goal, though, it becomes easier to see all the ways in which consumption has taken over your life.

For me, it was reading. Everyone always told me that it was good to read, that I was smart. I enjoyed consuming books, or at least I thought I did. I wasted hours and hours of my life in other worlds. Reading was easy, an escape from reality. But my escape pulled me away from engaging with my reality in a meaningful way. Creating is more difficult, but in the end it leaves something of value behind.

This is the basis of self-esteem is here. When we have no money society values us little. When we don’t create things we value ourselves little. When we create, we see our own worth, our own ability to change the world for the better. I want to mention a point here. Creation may not mean something material. Creation may be a great relationship with someone we love, or a beautiful family.

Find what you love, pour your heart into it. You will be rewarded for your efforts. It might not be money, but it will be worth it. And it is not uncommon for the money to follow. Just remember that this will take time. The easiest ways to get ahead require an investment of time and energy over weeks or months. A little time here, a little time there, and your project will grow far beyond what you could ever do in a weekend. Learn to think in the long term, and you will be far ahead of the people living paycheck to paycheck.

So start today. Do something small. Plant a garden, start a rabbit hutch, start a batch of mead. Create something that will take time but will give you something you value at the end. Then learn to love the process. Learn to plan ahead for next year this year, then learn to plan for the rest of your life, for your children’s lives. This is the essence of sustainability.