What’s that potato doing there? I almost took a day off yesterday. Somehow I ended up deciding to work on my garden instead of only sit on my deck. As I pulled up the grass that had usurped the veggies I found a potato clinging to the roots. Evidently, the potatoes I tried to grow last year had over-wintered and were coming back. I teased the thumb-sized starter from the weeds and quickly replanted last year’s project. Why was I clearing that bit of garden? To plant potatoes that had stayed in the kitchen long enough to start growing indoors. My efforts at this year’s projects are unexpectedly bolstered by last year’s work. The good news surprised me. When it’s been gone for a while, good news can be hard to recognize; but, recognizing the return of good news is one of the best ways to find persistent joy again.
Volunteers, charities, and philanthropists share the experience with entrepreneurs. Do lots of good work, and hope it makes a difference. If you don’t need money, then the waiting is easier to sustain. But many passionate, creative, and innovative people devote months, years, and lives to efforts that don’t immediately present a return. Being appreciated for your efforts only after you’re dead is not a good business plan, unless your main goal aims at eternity. Being paid too late can make someone the “Late Mr/s. so-and-so.”
America’s culture is imperfect, but it includes an acceptance of individual expression that is uncommon in the world. If you want to devote your life to foresting the land with fruit trees, take a look at Johnny Appleseed who wandered the east coast planting apple trees. (And wearing a pot for a hat. Handy in a hailstorm.) Clara Barton started the American Red Cross over 120 years ago, but first she volunteered to help treat the Civil War wounded – and demanded to be allowed to work the front lines where she was needed, not just where it was safe. At least one of her outfits developed a bullet hole.
America’s laws are crafted to support innovation, and inventors are expected to live with considerable risk. That certainty of risk is balanced by the possibility of reward. We can share in that risk and reward in many ways. Currently, I am experiencing the (hopefully temporary) downside of risk. Historically, I’ve enjoyed the upside rewards. The innovators’ experiences are amplified.
Thank you, Benjamin Franklin, for starting us off with role models for philanthropy and innovation, from the libraries to the wood stove.
Thank you, the un-named crowds, who volunteered and invented without reward; but whose efforts moved all of us forward.
For people who need money but are working without a paycheck, the lack of a guarantee that today’s efforts will be paid tomorrow is a tangible risk. Cruising through my facebook friends, I could probably list hundreds of people who are giving more than they’re getting, whether that is in charity or commerce. The intersection of the two, doing paid work for a non-profit, can leave workers waiting for fund drives or even just waiting for volunteers to find the time to write the checks.
During the dissonance, introspective individuals will ask those questions that responsible people must. “If this isn’t working, have I made an incorrect assumption?” It becomes easy to doubt the compliments. It becomes easy to question the complimenters. It becomes easy to doubt the work and the interpretation of the results. A friend’s title of visionary is earned, yet hard for them to wear when the only food on the menu is ramen. Which is the most appropriate bit of wisdom; “Persistence Pays.”, or “Insanity is repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting different results.”?
And then I found the potato.
I know people who’ve given up from fatigue. There are too many examples of people who’ve backed away from efforts, opportunities, and success, even romance, because they’ve lived so long with very little tangible positive reinforcement. When the offer arrives it is put aside out of habit or as part of an exercised defense. I had to pause and look at the potato to believe it was there. It survived when gardeners told me it wouldn’t, in a place with more than enough slugs, rabbits, and deer. Maybe the work is already done, and the only thing that needs to be done is a bit of weeding and a bit more patience.
In the past week, I’ve:
- received an email with the subject, “You’re Hired”, for a quarter-time job,
- re-applied for another part-time job I eagerly applied for last summer, a bit in disbelief that it was available again so soon,
- mentioned the job possibilities to the mortgage company in a rare phone call, that may have resulted in them delaying foreclosure,
- interviewed for a small part-time job that may turn into a consulting gig,
- received a sweet offer from a friend,
- and found myself wondering if I’ve overlooked anything because I know that each of those bits of news took time to grow from acknowledgement to understanding to appreciation.
I’ve been busy, rarely taking a day off, usually working until after dinner, and wondering if my efforts will be rewarded. I am encouraged because I feel that my efforts are building on each other. Maybe my most important task will be recognizing the financial equivalent of last year’s potatoes unexpectedly rising through this winter’s weeds to grow beside this season’s efforts.