Lessons I’ve Learned Since Turning Twenty

This week I turn twenty three. It’s not a particularly impressive marker in life, possessing none of the raw energy of eighteen or the inebriation of turning twenty one. It doesn’t even claim to be the half way mark through your twenties. Instead it’s just an odd birthday with an odd number. As a yardstick of years goes though, reflection every three years is not a bad idea. In fact, it was even the plot of an episode of how i met your mother, in which Ted and company predict where they will be three years from the present moment (Trilogy Time).

With three years past, my life has experienced a character arc of sorts, doing more than taking me from early adulthood to slightly later early adulthood. The past three years have offered lessons and opportunities for growth that I could never have begun to imagine.

When I was twenty, I was still working farmer’s markets and hoping for a way out of them. Searching for a way to take my classes to become an Organic inspector and move forward with the life I thought I was supposed to have.

Now, I write this from a hotel room in Hillsboro WI, where I am visiting Amish country performing GAP audits. Not only am I an Organic Inspector, certified in two scopes and host of The Intellectual Agrarian Podcast, it is also my privilege to work at Yorktown Organics as their paperwork guru and all around wisecracker.

I cannot claim that the following ideas are what got me from where I was to where I am, but I can say without a doubt that these are the lessons life has forced down my throat in the past three years. They are not all novel, different, or original, in fact many are simple. But it’s these simple ideas that have changed what I think, how I behave, and how I live. There’s no guarantee that any of these thoughts will change you as they did me, but they are worth knowing none-the-less.

These are not presented in any particular order, and can each be taken on their own. Some of them have been the topics of articles I’ve written before, others may become articles of their own someday soon.

The Dichotomy of Control

This is a Stoic exercise in which an individual looks at what is within in their control and what is outside their control. If it is within my control to change something, then it is my responsibility to steward it. If it is outside my control it is not my responsibility, I shouldn’t obsess or worry about it.

This exercise is carried a step further because of my faith, in that I look at that which is outside of my control as being left to God. I can trust that whatever happens outside my control is set about by God and as Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

Because of this exercise I’ve found it easier to go from being an obsessive control freak who micromanaged himself and others, to letting go of an inordinate burden that didn’t need to be carried about like a stupid dog in a purse.

Hazard Analysis and Preventive Controls

Hazard analysis and preventative controls is a concept used in food safety to prevent potential biological, physical, and chemical hazards from getting in food. Its structure is to review what the likelihood of potential hazards are and based on the severity and risk of the hazard, place controls to prevent it from happening.

This clunky apparatus is actually elegant in it’s encompassing design and can apply to far more than food safety. Rather than worrying about what could happen today or tomorrow, using this framework you can list the severity and likelihood of any potential hazard you are aware of in your life, and add to it a preventative control to help mitigate it from happening.

What this does is take you from worrying about what could happen, to proactively knowing that you have systems in place to prevent it’s possibility and have steps to take if it were to occur.

The Future Is Written Today

Born from a piece of mediocre poetry I wrote, this is what I have adopted as my family motto. It is the invention of a writer about living out his writing. Throughout my life it has been easy to focus on tomorrow without living in today, all the while forgetting it is today creating my tomorrow.

It focuses on action, on using what is within your control to shape the future in which you wish to live. To take responsibility for who you are and working towards becoming a better version of yourself.

Share Observations, Not Opinions

This lesson was the principle taught about writing Organic Inspection Reports. When viewing a farm it may be easy to interject how you felt or thought of a situation or process. At the end of the matter, your opinions don’t matter as much as the observations. What you observe is more likely to be true than how you felt about something.

In applying it to life, I’ve learned to take my personal tinge out of a given situation. I am better able to approach a position or idea without carrying my personal baggage to it.

Resources Come From Right Relationships

This insight was shared with me by Noah Sanders from Rora Valley Farms, and author of Born Again Dirt. When you look at your resources as coming from the relationships in your life you not only begin to appreciate them more, but nurture and care for them as opportunities to give back.

It’s easy to take people who are consistent fixtures in our lives for granted, to expect them to help or give of their talents or skills to you. Instead we need to be thankful for their continual influence and faithfulness in your life, giving of your talents and resources just as much (if not more) than you have received.

The Narrative Fallacy

The Narrative Fallacy, or Narrativity, is described by Nassim Taleb in The Black Swan (no association with the film) as, “The [Narrative] fallacy is associated with our vulnerability to over-interpretation and our predilection for compact stories over raw truths. It severely distorts our mental representations of the world.”

It is the nature of humanity to make short, to the point stories leaving out the random details that have nothing to do with the plot of what we believe our story to be. Innocuous details get blown out of proportion if they are relevant to the story we are telling ourselves. Example, “Man she was definitely flirting with me, did you see how she looked my direction?” We are infinitely skilled at this perversion of this truth, if it fits the model we’re telling ourselves.

Because of this reductionist mindset we exclude the roles of random events in our lives, becoming too focused on what we think matters to the story, while ignoring the very clear evidence that we are lying to ourselves. Example, “Dude, she was asking where the bathroom was and it was over your shoulder.”

Through the Narrative Fallacy I’ve told myself a lot of well crafted lies that were both inaccurate and ridiculous. Tales that didn’t end with a happily ever after, at least not if that was the story we were going to leave in ink. By ignoring this habit of the mind, this reductionist thinking, we can find freedom in the ultimate truth in our lives and appreciate the joys of living, instead of pretending we’re in a fairy tale.

Wait and Hope

At the end of my favorite book, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, the Count leaves a letter to his protege with these words, “[U]ntil the day when God will deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is contained in these two words,—‘Wait and hope.’”

For Monte Cristo, this means accepting that God will deal out Justice in this world and the next. He shares this with his protege to remind him that whatever may befall us in this life, whatever doubts we have to the future all we can do is to wait and hope.

As a person of impatient disposition and forceful temper, this has always been a bitter pill to swallow. I would rather try to make something work than wait for it to move on it’s own, but as we know from the Dichotomy of Control, it is not always my role to do that. Without knowing the future, we cannot make perfect choices. We can but wait to see how events play out and hope they are for the best.

Let Things Grow

The application to several of these thoughts is to let things grow on their own. Can we force a plant to grow faster than God intends it to? There are many parts of our lives that we want to move forward and fast, but if they did where would the joy be in their event?

Letting things grow on their own lets them grow in accordance with natural development. Now, that’s not to say that a little manure every now and again isn’t a good idea, but it doesn’t mean we try to pull the plant to stretch it, in order to get the harvest quicker. The fruits in our lives don’t manifest as quickly as we want, and that’s for the best.

Fruit trees are pruned for the first three years and any fruit that appears is culled before it can grow. The reason is so that the trees can put more energy into making strong trunks and branches to support greater fruit in the future. Sometimes our energies need to be focused on growing support and branches more than fruit, so that the fruits of the future are better and greater than our weak limbs could have supported.

Conclusion

These are the thoughts and ideas that have helped changed both my thoughts and life, for thoughts are the beginning of how we live life. If you wish to change the life you live, you must first change the thoughts you think. Day by day, as you begin to implement changes there will appear to be little progress, it’s only when you take a step back and examine a year, or three, that you can see if real change that has occurred.

For me, I can see the real change in my life, do you see any in yours?

This article was originally published at Medium.com on July 18th, 2018.