Lesson 1: Lack of capacity is painfully expensive – AND – Lesson 1A: Our needs for capacity change.
One of the first things I discovered upon moving to the farm was the explosive growth of the local cool season grasses. From April to June, the acreage around the house and in the pastures goes almost overnight from winter-bare to waist-high foliage so thick you can’t see your feet as you wade through the tall grass.
In a region hosting copperheads, timber rattlers and Carolina pygmy rattlers, you really need to be able to see where you place your feet.
Suburban girl that I was, my response to this new reality was to purchase a 22-inch self-propelled walk-behind lawnmower.
To recap: 40 acres. Fast-growing green stuff. Walk-behind mower with a cutting path less than 2 feet wide.
Let me also add here: The topography of our farm is bowl-shaped, with creek-bottom pastures surrounded by timbered slopes. Nothing is flat or level, just varying degrees of steepness.
“Good exercise!” I told myself, and proceeded to walk up, down and across the sloping yards behind that little mower.
For three years, I managed with that little mower, primarily on the areas immediately around the house and occasionally I would mow a walk-able trail down to the creek. I refused to invest in a riding mower because the plan was for Gerald to bring one with him when he joined me on the farm full time.
But: Gerald knew homesteading would require more than even a large riding mower. He insisted we needed a tractor.
I had doubts – and fears. Not only are tractors big, loud and smelly, I thought, they’re scary dangerous. My perspective on this had been shaped from knowing someone who experienced a serious accident in a fall from a working tractor.
Gerald made his point. “Firewood to drag to the house,” he said. “Pastures to mow. The lane needs to be maintained with grading, capping, and ditching to handle rainwater runoff.”
So, a tractor entered my life and I learned how to use it safely, discovering in the process, Gerald had been right: We did need a tractor. It made a huge difference not just in how easily we could do some things; it made some things possible that otherwise would not have been.
The tractor gave us capacity we could not have had without it.
It is important to note however, that the original tractor was slightly smaller and less powerful than the one Gerald had wanted, but for 13 years, that first tractor served us well. It mowed the pastures, pushed down smaller trees, dug dirt and sand, hauled gravel and rock from the creek bed, and more. I pitchforked used chicken bedding from the coop into the tractor bucket, then moved the muck to the compost pile where Gerald “stirred” the pile with that same tractor bucket, allowing us to compost on a much grander scale than I had ever imagined.
He used the tractor to keep the lane passable during winter storms, and to drag debris from the pastures after the creek flooded.
When we added sheep and goats to the homestead, hay production began, which meant incorporating a hay cutter, rake and baler. A PTO-driven post hole driver made the installation of new fence posts much easier. The homestead expanded from 40 to 52 acres, increasing the amount of hay production possible.
The tractor was a fundamental element in supporting our homesteading lifestyle.
But here’s the thing: Just as my original little walk-behind lawnmower was not built to handle the rugged duty of a farm, that tractor was under-powered for all we asked of it, not at first, but eventually, as our homestead grew in size and complexity. Pulling the hay baler put too much strain on the tractor’s transmission, and over time that accumulated strain caused irreparable damage. The result: A non-operational tractor with a repair estimate half the original purchase price. Ouch.
The moral of the story?
Capacity is crucial. And – as our needs change, how we meet those needs will likely need to change also.
The systems and structures we use to run businesses, projects, or lives can breakdown AND cause additional (costly, painful) breakdowns if they are not flexing to adapt to what we need today.
The same is true for perspective, for the stories we tell ourselves, the narratives that have shaped and defined us. Trying to meet the challenges of life today while living yesterday’s stories is like trying to get a hay crop in using a walk-behind lawnmower. High discomfort and high effort with limited return.
Our lives require the expansion of capacities in order to meet challenge and change, and –
Lack of necessary capacity will not just limit possibility and choice, it can be expensively damaging and unnecessarily painful.
At the time of this writing, Fall of 2020, we’re living in a world that requires more capacity and more kinds of capacity than we’ve ever known before. If we are to move through this season of challenge and change effectively – at a seminal time in human history – we can not afford to depend solely on yesterday’s capacities to see us through.
It is time to build capacity with intention.
What you can do now to expand capacity:
- Take a few minutes to become quiet and drop into yourself, allowing your breathing to deepen.
- Notice where in your life you experience emotional discomfort, whether it takes the form of that vague itch longing to be scratched or something chronically annoying, or perhaps fear, anger, despair.
- Once you’ve identified the feeling (or group of feelings), consider what you are feeling within the context of capacity. What capacity might your Life, work, relationship(s) be asking you to cultivate?
- If you are familiar with the Nine Days to Peace process, take this question of capacity development into your 9DP practice and notice what shows up, what stirs for you.
I invite you to try this and notice what emerges for you. Over the years, I’ve seen unexpected clarity or pivotal perspective shifts emerge from taking just a few minutes to do this reflection process, often leading to the development of new or expanded capacity.
Oh, and btw? Expanded capacity helps us access choices and possibilities that simply can’t be realized without that capacity.
In celebration of your capacities, those already present and those yet to emerge!
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