I was teaching a spooncarving lesson this weekend when I found myself saying, in different situations, the same thing: shift your hand a half inch. Sometimes it was when axing, or using a knife, or how to hold the spoon being carved. Each time, it increased power, or control, or just flat out made something possible that the student was struggling with. I was struck at what a small change each of these instances was, and what a huge difference they made. What had been a struggle became easy. What had been impossible became possible.
Of course, me being me, I'm not satisfied to let this just remain a lesson inherent to spooncarving, but feel the need to extrapolate from it to life at large. So many times, the smallest of changes have an outsized affect on the outcome, or our abilities. We make some small change to our habits, and then everything flows differently from there.
I recently installed a chin-up bar in our house. I had originally purchased one of those ones that hang from the door trim, only to find when it arrived that all of the doorjams in our house are too wide for it to fit. After sulking for a day or two, I just went and made one from a section of ash sapling and two chunks of 2x6. The rule (or habit shift) is that every time I go through this doorway, I do one pull up.
Now, I can't remember the last time I did pull ups regularly. Maybe never. We had one in our house growing up but I didn't use it in any habitual way. I'm strong, but I quickly found that pull ups use a set of muscles that I am currently lacking. One pull up, at first, was hard. And one might not seem like much, but the way we use our house (and the location of the bar) means I now do 10-20 pull ups a day. I used to do zero.
In the last week, then, a single pull up has no longer become hard. It's too early to see any other ripple effects from this small change (although I realized the other night that my stomach muscles are sore, another good sign), but I suspect, so long as I continue the habit, that they will be many.
Often when we want something different in life, we think that we need to make drastic changes to achieve it. The problem is, drastic change, unless you have no choice and your life is just different now, is unsustainable. No amount of momentary desire will keep you on that diet and crazy exercise plan. But one tiny change? That's where all the power and control flows from, strange as it sounds.
So go ahead. Nudge your hands over a half inch. See what happens.
So the last few days I've been sick. Just a head cold, but anyone who knows me will tell you that I'm at my absolute worst with full sinuses. As part of coping, I watched some rom-coms at night, and by chance, the two I watched both had protagonists who found, through many plot twists and turns, the joy of being single.
On a seemingly random and yet related note, we just got 15 pullets (young hens) after a winter of being chickenless except for a rooster who we wanted to keep because he is a very good rooster. Some roosters are mean. Some are stupid. Some are useless. It's worth hanging on to the kind, gentle ones that actually watch over their flock.
This rooster had a long, cold, lonely winter, and so it is a true delight now to watch him interact with the new flock. One of the things that is most evident is that he has a PURPOSE again. Now he can scratch up tender grubs and make little chucking noises to call over the nearest hen to eat it. Now he can crow at potential threats and have that alarm have real meaning. Now he can keep a vigilant eye on things from the top of the compost heap for someone's benefit other than his own.
Seeing Solo (his name is almost too perfect given his lonely winter, I know, but I swear we named him because he was the last surviving chick of his clutch) rediscover his purpose has got me reflecting on my own purpose in life, and how much of that revolves around creating a home and providing for my family. Many of the things I do are to create the experiences for my girls, or to make a home life that feels a certain way. If I lived alone, would I wash the dishes? Would I vacuum the floors? Probably, but the point is not whether I'm doing these things for me or for them. The point is that I do it for them, and then I get to enjoy it, too.
What I'm realizing is that this service to my family is my purpose in life. Sure, there are other goals of service, having to do with what I do for a living, but I do those things SO THAT I CAN PROVIDE FOR MY FAMILY.
Which brings us to the central question: if you are single, or don't have kids, what the heck are you supposed to make of this? Is life just a waiting game of playing at adulthood until you have a family and then that all changes?
I don't think so.
I think that this service to others is not just something we give to our families. It can be a way of approaching the world, extended to our family, friends, acquaintances. It can be the basis of business and it can be how we seek to make the world a better place than how we found it.
I believe it is important to be self-aware enough to know what you need to be happy, and to fight for that, but I also think that you can go too far down the road of self-realization, and end up taking care of only yourself. And ultimately, that won't hold a candle to the pleasure of taking care of others.
So it's good for me to see Solo stalking around the chicken meadow, a couple of chickens in tow. It's good for me to have two tiny whirlwinds of chaos in my life to clean up after. It's good that it's not just me, looking after me. I do better, and I think we all do better, when our actions are at least partly done for the sake of others.
This weekend has been a big family weekend, with my brother and his family coming down from Burlington. They are bigger gardeners than even we are, so the conversation turned to the spring season, what had done well and what was lagging behind. It has been cool, without surprise frosts but all the things that like some heat are taking their sweet time while all the things that benefit from an extended cool period (like spinach) are going crazy.
I mentioned how this year, for the first time in a long time, I had failed to go into the spring with an established planting of spinach or even a new round sowed as early as feasible. I was using the hoophouse to axe out blanks until mid April, and the intensity of it this year had me questioning if it was even worth trying to squeeze in a little sowing of spinach in the corners. I felt like I was using the space to the max already. And then when I cleared out of the hoophouse I convinced myself that it wasn't worth planting spinach because it was just going to warm up and it would bolt and we'd get barely any life out of the planting.
As it turns out, with the long cool spring, we would have done quite well if I'd just taken the half hour to get it done. And that is kind of the point, because as I was relating this to my brother and sister-in-law, it occurred to me that this very diversification, that means that if you plant a little of everything that each year some stuff will do poorly and other stuff will do great, that same principle is actually at work in all areas of life. You don't know what the weather will be so you hedge your bets by planting a bit of everything, and that way you know something will work out. Similarly, you don't know how life will turn out, so you hedge your life-professionally and personally- so that even if some stuff doesn't pan out, other stuff will. Friends come and go in ways that you can't control, so make a lot of them. Some work opportunities succeed while others don't for reasons as inscrutable as the weather, so have lots of irons in the fire.
The benefit of this sort of diversity is so obvious that we often don't even see it. Instead, we convince ourselves that we know what we want, or are choosing quality over quantity, or are following our passion. But I think we are fooling ourselves. We are as much in control of the outcome of any individual part of our lives as the tomato controls whether or not there will be a late frost that nips it in the bud. The thing we CAN control is how many shots at success we give ourselves.
So plant that spinach, because you never know. Nurture those friendships you've been neglecting. Send that exploratory email, start that pipedream. Much will fall by the wayside, but even the most difficult growing season is a goldmine for something. And if you don't appreciate the bumper crop of zucchinis the world has bequeathed you when you would have preferred basil and potatoes, roll up your sleeves and get planting.
In the diversity is your success.
My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.