Vail Daily column: Taking the really long view
“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week,” —George S. Patton.
My favorite duty on the ranch was to burn the trash. It doesn’t sound like a fun job to some of you, I know, but for me and my 12-year-old brain, it was just about the coolest thing you could get to do. First of all, it wasn’t that labor intensive. For a 12-year-old with severe hay fever, the ranch work was downright miserable. In fact, I don’t remember the majority of my summers between age 9-15, primarily because I was in a Benadryl-induced fog for the majority of the time.
Burning the trash on the ranch consisted of hauling the two to four large black trash bags from the shop and garage to the burn barrels on the edge of the “yard.” I use the term yard here loosely, as it was mainly a series of gravel-covered roads and overgrown native grass segments where my stepdad and the hands would park the trucks, combines, backhoes, augers and other assorted machinery. There was a true grassy fenced area around the bunkhouse where my stepdad had put in a sandbox and swing set for his girls, but outside of the fence after June was mostly knee-high native prairie grasses that had turned brown from lack of water. Add a little diesel and a blowtorch to the barrels of trash, and you’re done except for watching the cheery blaze.
On one day in particular, against advice, I decided that I wanted to burn the trash anyway. It must’ve been July, nearly a hundred degrees, with a pretty decent breeze blowing. Usually, I could stuff enough orange bailing twine that had been used already onto the burning trash. It would melt down and hold the embers in the barrel. Somehow, the fire got away from me, and before I knew it, I was watching flaming embers float through the hot air and down the hill into a field of native grass about 50 feet away.
You can guess what happened next. I burst into the bunkhouse where my mom is cooking for the hands, telling her there’s a fire in the field. I’ll never forget what she said to me then. It was something like, “Well, go put it out.” I bolted back through the shop, grabbing a large aluminum grain shovel and a gallon of water we kept around for drinking when the hands were out in the fields. Though the fire was moving a bit quicker than my skill set could handle at the time, I jumped in and started stamping out the blaze for a good half hour or so before a few other folks arrived. It left an acre of the prairie up in smoke, but it was one of the best lessons in figuring things out that I will likely ever have in my life.
Looking back at the whole ordeal now, I wonder how many times we could use someone in our own lives telling us to just “figure it out.” There’s value to planning, sure, but you eventually reach a certain point in which planning becomes the obstacle rather than the solution. There was certainly some risk that day I hopped the barbed wire fence and decided to fight that little fire, but the risk of inaction was far greater. I had seen men on the ranch fighting a fire by hand before. I knew generally what it was supposed to look like. What I didn’t know was how hot, miserable and potentially dangerous it was going to be. I figured that out real fast though when I was in the thick of the situation. When your shoe soles start to melt … well, that might mean it’s time for you to take a step back and get a deep breath of fresh air.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about planning lately. As my profession expands and my commitments to the community expand, it seems like I have to become more and more organized in order to keep up. My calendar gets pushed out a few weeks, and I finally realize that I’m talking about December like it’s tomorrow. I don’t wish that on anybody. Maybe I should go back to bartending …
In my world, there seems to be this constant discussion about plans. You seem to hear it almost every week. You boss or coworker asks you, “What’s your five-year plan?” Where do you see yourself one or two or five or 10 years from now? Those are all important horizons to plan for, certainly.
I’d like to propose a new horizon for you to plan for, though. I’m probably not the first person to ever propose this idea, but hopefully I make you seriously consider it for a second.
What’s your 200-year plan?
Yep. You read right. Where do you want to be in 200 years? “Dead,” says the smartass in the back of the room. OK, sure, dead (maybe) … but how dead? Do you want to be remembered? And if so, for what? What will be your legacy and to whom will it matter?
See, when we look at our lives in the really long-term, some of the small stuff seems to fall away. I’m not sure if it’s right or not, but there is a part of me that thinks it’s pretty responsible to consider how my actions and my life well-lived will affect other generations.
Of course, I can’t live in the extreme future on a daily basis. Life is happening right now. I can, however, think about my plans and my goals in the context of how it might change the lives of others who might be born 50 to 100 years from now.
Finally, here’s the big secret: We are a bunch of fakes. We are pretending that our actions aren’t eternal, because we have limited time being “alive,” and that therefore it doesn’t matter. The truth is, we are eternal beings … because our actions are eternal. Some of you with religious beliefs about life after death may grasp this a bit quicker than others. I don’t know if there’s anything after this, but I sure hope so. What I do know, however, is that what I do today will matter to somebody at some point in the future, even if I’m not around to witness it. That, to me, is one of the most empowering ways to look at my daily actions that I could ever consider.
So, don’t overplan, but seriously … where will you be in 200 years?
Ben Gochberg is a commercial lender and business finance consultant. He plays, lives, works and is trying to do a little good in Eagle County. He can be reached for business inquiries or free consultation at 970-471-3546.