As many of you know, my husband Alan and I live on a farm. We don’t own a TV, much to the dismay of my nieces and nephews. Our attention is absorbed by the world around us – the wildflowers that bloom in brilliant succession, the garden that needs constant tending, the chickens that trade us feed for breakfast.
I’ve learned so much about life – and business – from living on a farm. The saying “the first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, the third year it leaps” is as applicable to my career as an artist as it is to the perennial garden that must have initially inspired it. In fact, farm life has taught me so much about life life that I’ve started to believe it’s the real reality. All that stuff on TV and the internet, it’s a tiny sliver of a much larger world.
And it’s skewed, that sliver. It’s not reality, even when it’s true. Truth and reality are two separate things. Truth is accuracy. A statement that’s factual. A single sentence. Reality is the whole story.
All of this to say that when it comes to my creative work, I often look to nature for guidance. How do the honeybees handle a challenge? They keep their heads down and do the work. How do the sunflowers keep from feeling overwhelmed? They choose to always face the sun. These are the lessons I try to remember when life is difficult.
When the pandemic hit, the farm became a stabilizing force. A firm footing. And, a fresh perspective. The animals don’t much care for politics; they care about what impacts them. Will there be enough food to eat? A safe place to sleep? All the rest is decoration.
When it comes to safety, nature finds strength in numbers. When a coyote is near, the ducks huddle together on the pond for protection. When a hawk flies overhead, the rooster sounds the alarm so all the creatures know to seek shelter. Even trees knit their roots together to buttress against a storm. Nature knows the only way to overcome danger is to work together. Humankind is still figuring it out.
Last week one of our ducks hatched a handful of ducklings. My work day ground to a halt as I spent the afternoon watching eight fluffy little beings bobbling across the field. Lesson of the day? When ducklings are around, nothing gets done. And that’s okay.
I spent the week watching them learn – first to walk, then to forage. I was reminded that everyone is clunky in the beginning. Learning is a process. It takes time. I watched the mama duck give a duckling a nudge and exaggerate her movements to teach a little one how to swim. We all learn. We all have others who help us along the way.
And then I saw the most fun lesson of all: the moment a duckling learned to dive. He shoved his body face first under water and paddled as hard as he could. After a few tries he could swim underwater a fair distance, emerging on the other side quite clearly pleased with himself.
His siblings were suddenly enamored with the concept. What are you doing? We want to do that too. They all looked at each other for a moment. Suddenly there were eight little bodies flipped upside down, tails in the air, tiny feet flailing. But they hadn’t figured out the key step, that you have to use both heads and tails. You can’t just dunk your face underwater. It isn’t going to work.
I know that face underwater feeling. That feeling of trying so hard and getting nowhere. That defeated exhaustion when nothing you do seems to work. But I also know the lesson the ducklings are about to learn – that whatever you do in life, you can’t half ass it.
The ducklings will eventually figure it out, just like you and I will eventually master the challenges we’re currently facing. We just have to dive in and commit to the learning process. Give it our whole ass, not hedge our bets or play it safe. So grab your glass of courage and raise it with me: