Four lessons from this past year

I recently saw a post from someone I follow on social media which read something along the lines of, “I’m not a glass-half-empty person nor a glass-half-full person. I’m more of an ‘I have a glass!!!’ kind of person.”

When I read that, I laughed because that’s how I’ve been feeling for the good part of this year, especially in the past few weeks. When I logged in today I realized that I have not posted for almost exactly a year (oops). This year has seen so many changes, projects, and developments. Here are some lessons synthesized from our various successes and failures.

Living things don’t always do what they’re “supposed” to do, and that’s ok.

From people to livestock to garden plants, once you’re trying to culture, care for, or coexist with another bio-form, things are bound to go awry. You can either get frustrated, or you can laugh at your destined-to-be-futile attempts at trying to influence the behavior of another living being.

Tradesmen can take weeks to get something built or installed which you anticipated taking mere days. Your hens can decide that laying eggs and hatching chicks out on the neighbor’s farm is a better idea than doing so in the coop or in a safe and warm crate in your house. Your female goats might be unimpressed at the charms of the neighbor’s buck you can only borrow for a short period of time to “get the job done”. Your corn field might only yield half the amount of corn you anticipated harvesting.

After sighing and rolling your eyes and maybe losing some sleep over these aberrations from your “plan”, you have to laugh because after all, expectations are projections, and projections are not reality. Reality takes time and is guaranteed to be at least a little unexpected and not what you exactly had in mind but that’s the beauty of it.

Don’t let your pride cut in on your profits.

Be able to admit when a project is no longer cash-positive, and don’t let pride get in the way of protecting whatever profit you made. We had laying hens this past year who were profitable for about six months. After that time we began to see a reduction in their egg output because they were molting. Continuing to feed and keep them through that period would have resulted in financial loss, so we decided to sell them. Yes, seeing dozens of glossy and healthy chickens in the coop lifts the spirit, but if they are not earning their keep, it is not practical for us to continue to spend money on them. (We still have village-type chickens whose feed is not as expensive for us to make and who produce enough eggs and chicks to justify keeping them.)

Staying at the status quo takes no effort, but going above that requires willpower, risk-taking, money, or all three.

Humans are the most adaptable species on the planet. If necessary, a person can get used to living in practically any climate, any culture, any language, any level of quality of life. However, once you get used to something you can become complacent because no matter what “level” you’re at, it’s always easier to stay right there in your comfort zone than to reach for improvement. Any change can be perceived as an intrusion on the current “good-enough” situation, and even an improvement can seem like a risk or a disruption of the way things are right now.

It takes willpower to try to work with local authorities to see how utilities like water and electricity can make it to your property. It takes money and mental energy to install a water tank and tower so that you can have running water inside your home. It’s always a risk to introduce a new animal into your flock or herd who could bring fights or some unforeseen disease into the group. Every change requires some amount of energy or risk, but these well-thought-out changes will ideally (and likely) lead to improvements on the status quo. If you never take risks, you will never really improve on your current situation.

But at the same time…

You don’t have to do everything yourself. And sometimes it’s just better not to.

I know homesteaders are often self-described DIYers, but I think that often trying to do everything yourself (or berating yourself when you don’t) can be harmful. You may feel like you’re “cheating” when you get something store-bought that you “could have” made yourself, or hiring someone to do something that perhaps other people you know have done themselves. Instead of feeling inadequate, remember that you’re a human being with limits on your time, energy, and expertise, and sometimes you just want to pick up a latte to-go or pay someone to help you harvest all that corn. Preserve your energy and sanity for the highest-priority tasks, and be humble (and realistic) enough to ask for help with the other things. Hey, you’ll probably learn something in the process too!

What are some things you’ve learned this past year? I’d love to hear your experiences.

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