A collection of distilled sarcastic wisdom, numerous photographs, discussions of books and stuff to learn and more stuff to think about from a retired economics professor turned blogger and photographer.
In our last task, we discussed the importance of not giving up when we wait for the harvest or when we impatiently wait for the results and benefits of the change we have been trying to make. In today's task, we consider the importance of being grateful for even a little bit of progress. If we have been struggling with some problem such as our weight for eons, and then after trying and trying we see a drop of a pound or two, this small result is cause for a major celebration. Instead of being discouraged with the slow progress of our weight loss we should, instead, be happy that we have turned the corner when we see the dial on the scales today float a smidgen below where it was yesterday.
Many changes we are trying to make can be made quickly on a once-and-done basis, and we don't have to think about them again. However, the solution to most major problems can be a long drawn-out affair testing our patience, our commitment, and our willingness to keep doing whatever we have to do to get to the result we need to achieve. I have frequently used the problem of weight loss as an illustration of the need for change and of the difficulties and long-time commitment necessary to achieve the change. The same principles apply to any change we are trying to make.
If my students during my teaching career needed to improve their study habits to improve their grade and succeed in my course, a one-shot cram session just to eke out a passing grade was never enough. Students needed, instead, to turn their study procedures upside down and start over again on a committed and continuous basis to change their inadequate study habits for the better. My rewards as a teacher came when a student who was previously in over his or her head changed the way they were preparing for exams and came to see me with a big smile as they told me "I finally did it. I raised my grade." Others were just thankful they hadn't flunked another exam. And some figured out that the procedure for learning complex material was not really all that difficult and got one of the highest grades they had ever received. Even a little improvement is always a welcome achievement. Not only does a little improvement relieve the crisis of a possible failing grade, a little improvement lights up our mind, buttresses our resolve, and moves us in a continuing direction to overcome the problem that previously had us licked.
This morning I reached a landmark in my quest for weight loss. As I have written before, I suffered from weight problems for decades. Finally, about a year ago, I got control of what I was doing and I have been continually losing weight. The progress has been slow because I have to contend with water weight along with normal weight loss. Some times I stall on a weight level, up or down three or four pounds, and can't move away from this level for days or maybe even several weeks. By persisting, I have been able to make progress. And, imagine this, today my scales finally, at last, miraculously moved below 280 to 279. And so I celebrated. My spirits were lifted. My resolve was regenerated. I am on my way in a few more pounds to a total weight loss of 50 pounds. And then I have another round to go to lose more weight. But think of this: I am no longer carrying around 50 pounds of excess weight like a bag of cement or two bags of salt everywhere I go. The load on my heart and blood pressure is lightened. The world is lighter as I become lighter, less cumbersome in my walking and movements. I rejoiced in a small improvement that will continue, if I don't give up, in reaching the ultimate weight goal that has escaped me for decades.
We are always happy when we see or experience an "aha" moment when finally, after much exasperation and perseverance, we figure something out, we solve a problem, or we see the light and understand something that has evaded our understanding. Similarly, we can have an "aha" moment when we make a small gain, realize a small improvement, and can see the road ahead more clearly. If we are a small child, we reach the point where we can take the training wheels off our child-sized bike and pedal it, although a bit wobbly, on our own down the sidewalk without falling over.
Task number 174: Be grateful for small changes. And then keep doing whatever brought you the small change. Small changes will ultimately lead to big changes, inch by inch, step by step. Good luck, and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
I have had a lot of fun this past week using farming, sowing, cultivating, and harvesting crops as analogies for discussing our efforts in making changes, setting goals, and working to achieve these goals and reap the rewards of the changes we are seeking to make. One of the reasons why some of us plant a seed, start a project, make a small change and then give up is that we think we aren't getting anywhere, we are not making any progress, everything is just the same as it was before. When we can't see any measurable progress, we get discouraged and feel that continuing our effort is just not worth the bother. So we get discouraged. We wonder why we ever bothered trying. We reinforce our feelings of continued procrastination and personal failure and compound the errors and problems we have punished ourselves with for varying lengths of time in our personal history.
Our task today is to avoid becoming impatient as we await the results of our efforts. If we have given our best, if we have tried our hardest, and if we have never given up, we may not realize the effect of our efforts on others over night. I would like to share a few little stories to illustrate the fallacy of impatience and the futility of giving up when we wonder if what we are doing will ever lead to anything positive or useful or whether we are just wasting our time.
I taught college economics courses for 45 years. I received the following letter two days ago:
Hi Dr. Blood,
I graduated from BYU in 1985 with a degree in finance. I took a couple of economics classes from you and have fond memories of you and of your class. . . .In my profession as a wealth advisor, I now wish I had a degree in economics more so than in finance. Conversations with my clients often turn to the economics of the times. . .I can't say I remember all my professors at BYU, much less their names, but you stand out as one to whom I have often referred. . . Thank you for teaching me! I greatly appreciate it. Please know you made a difference! I pray all is well with you and your family!
A former student
First Vice President, Investments
Please note the date this former student took my class in economics. The year 1985 is exactly 30 years ago. I have often wondered if anything I ever did or said or tried to teach my thousands of students ever made a dent, if my hard work ever mattered to anyone. And then, out of the blue, comes this heartfelt letter that brought a tear to my eyes and a firm recognition that we may never reap the harvest of the seeds we sow.
We want results from our efforts now. We seek instant gratification and immediate verification that our efforts matter, that our work matters, that our lives matter. I am thankful that I lived 30 years from the time I taught this student so that I could receive his wonderful letter affirming that, yes, something I did had some positive benefits for someone.
I have written before about another similar letter I received a few weeks ago from another student who took my class 15 years ago and who took the time to write me and tell me how much she appreciated my class. She also told me how she is teaching her 11 year old daughter to read the financial pages in the Wall Street Journal.
Finally, I just received a letter from one of my grandsons who had found a letter I had written many years ago to all of my grandchildren. My grandson commented " . . . as you so prophetically predicted in the preface we learned a lot after finding it 5 or 10 years later." And then he thanked me for "all the work you have always done providing us with resources for our family history and your willingness to pass along your wisdom." Well, I'm not so sure about the wisdom part. A lot of what I have passed along is sheer nonsense. And then he thanked me for "spreading the sunshine."
I hope these stories illuminate the need to be patient in waiting for the results we might have hoped we would see soon after our efforts. Whether 30 years, 15 years, or whether shorter or longer periods of time elapse before we reap the rewards of our efforts, we learn we must never give up, we must stay the course and not worry about when or if the harvest will come.
Task Number 173: Don't be impatient waiting for the harvest. Don't always expect instant results from your efforts. Stay the course and wait and watch. Keep going, good luck. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
Among my most enjoyable memories of growing up on a farm are the memories of watching the crops grow throughout the summer. The wheat and barley fields grew tall and turned golden in the fall, moving in the wind. The smell of purple alfalfa blossoms permeated the night air along with the pungent smell of river water from the nearby Shoshone River. We watched the sugar beets grow larger as their green tops matured before the harvest. The work of planting, fertilizing, irrigating, cultivating, weeding, and spraying is nearly over in late summer as farmers watch the weather for frost, hail, slashing rainstorms, and other calamities that can wipe out a summer's work and a year's income in a few devastating moments. When we had a good year on the farm, life was good in the late summer as we harvested the hay, cut the grain with an ancient binder that bound the stalks into sheaves, and prepared to dig and harvest the sugar beets.
The summer itself was always fraught with anxiety. Did the crops have enough water? Enough fertilizer? Will the insects destroy one or more crops? Will the weather cooperate? Did we plant too early or too late? Did we plant the right seeds, in the right amounts? Did we grow crops in the right fields with the best combination of soils? Farmers seasoned by a lifetime of hard work work wait and watch and hope for the best, wondering which way the wind will blow, whether the crops will mature, whether the foreboding clouds in the north will bring a light rain or devastating hail. If the closest you have ever gotten to a farm or a farmer is the produce section of your grocery store, you have no idea of the yearly drama and anxiety and work that go into producing everything that people eat.
When a year goes well, when the crops mature and the weather cooperates, when we can get into the fields and harvest the crops at the best possible time, when the hay is stacked in big haystacks and the grain is threshed and sold or put into the granaries and the sugar beets are dug and hauled seven miles to the beet dump for the railroad to haul to the nearby sugar factory, then we can look forward to a more relaxed winter as we measure the harvest and the year's proceeds. And then we get ready for another year, another spring, another round of sowing and harvesting.
The tasks in our daily lives have many similarities to the sowing and harvesting cycle of farming. We take the first tentative step in making a change, we begin a new challenge, we go about our days work and chores. Just as farmers have no guarantee of a successful harvest or a successful crop, we have no guarantee that our projects will turn out, that the meal we are cooking for dinner will be edible, that the results we seek will be forthcoming, that we can successfully complete our task or reach our goal. We often stumble along the way, our effort disappears or languishes, we get sidetracked, the weeds grow up and clog our good intentions, and then we end up with a minimal or nonexistent harvest.
Some of the happiest moments of our lives occur when we begin to see our seeds sprout, when we see what happens when we begin a small change and then continue each day without letting up to continue the small change until the small change becomes a little larger change and then, after much careful tending and nourishing, becomes a significant change. We earned an A on our school exam. We lost 20 pounds when we have been stuck on some weight level for years. We took care of chores that have been nagging at us indefinitely. We made a change. We succeeded. And then we could enjoy the harvest, reap the positive results of what we set out to do.
Task Number 172: Reap the rewards of the harvest. Plant wisely, tend and cultivate carefully, watch the weather, and prepare for the harvest. Then reap the rewards of the harvest and be thankful for what you have been given. Good luck, keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
Today is Father's Day. Father's Day is a time for fathers to reflect about their role as fathers and, in my case, my role as a grandfather and great grandfather. Everyone thinks about their own fathers today and about the importance of their dads in raising them and in shaping their lives. And if we are fathers ourselves, we think about our children and our own families.
Fathers are not perfect. I don't know a single father who somehow didn't wish that he could remedy a mistake or two he made during his years of being a father. I know my own dad made some mistakes which hurt at the moment they occurred. Yet, with the passage of time, these mistakes vanished. What I do remember most is how hard my dad worked through the Great Depression of the 1930s, being gone from home for weeks at a time as he struggled to make a dollar here and a dollar there. And then I remember most vividly his years as a farmer and his unrelenting hard work and long days to earn a minimal living from stubborn soil and worn out farm machinery. I worked with my dad in the fields every summer and I milked cows with him every night. We laughed and told stories and I learned some of what my dad went through during his early life as an orphan. Despite the long days beginning at 4:00 a.m. and ending after chores at night, my dad could still laugh, he could still share the Saturday Evening Post, he could still come to our high school band concerts and other school events, and he would never lose his resolve to work another day, another week until the harvest came in. And then I knew he and my mother would agonize over the slim results of the final rewards for another year of unrelenting sacrifice and toil.
From my sixteen years at home, I learned how to work. I never received any lectures or verbal lessons about work. What I learned, I learned by example. I watched my Dad. I knew how hard he worked. I knew how hard he had to work to make a bare living from an unforgiving Mother Nature. And so I could work when I left home without a penny to make my own way through nearly eight years of college and forty-five years of teaching. I did my best to follow my Dad's example.
My wife's dad was a long-time locomotive engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad on freight and passenger trains between Laramie and Rawlins and Laramie and Cheyenne Wyoming. Whether feeling ill or well or fatigued to begin with, he answered his calls from the railroad day and night, snowstorm and 20 below zero, for many years. I honor my father in law also for his example of devotion to hard work and the skills necessary to perform his demanding job over so many years.
So our task today is to honor our fathers. Whatever shortcomings our fathers had or have in raising us, they have done their best, they are continuing to do their best. Their best is never quite perfect but dads are not given a how-to-do it manual that tells all the secrets and all of the methods of fatherhood. Dads have to figure out how to raise kids by trial and error. And since every child is different, dads have to learn an infinite number of ways to adapt, to change, to improve, and to forgive. And out of this process of unrelenting work, out of years of challenges that try our patience to the utmost, our children are raised and leave home. We just hope we have raised them well enough, taught them enough, set a good enough example, that they can fly on their own to whatever destination they now choose and have a safe landing. And we hope they will overlook any flaws or mistakes we made as dads amid all of our good intentions, tears, and prayerful hearts.
Today on Father's Day, we honor both our parents and our children. We may send cards, we may telephone greetings, we may visit our dads if they are near. But the best way we can honor our dads and our families is to set a good example, to teach by example rather than many words, and to provide a lasting and memorable legacy that forever imprints something good, something of value, out of our years as dads and fathers upon their own lives. Good luck, Happy Father's Day, and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
Some of you may have thought that I had missed writing my task today for the first time in nearly six months. I know you have been anxiously watching your computer screen or iPad not knowing what you were supposed to do today until I came up with the task of the day. I hope you have had a productive day, nonetheless, even though you will have to stay up a little later tonight to consider all of the ramifications, permutations, and responsibilities associated with the task I am about to assign.
We will get right to the heart of today's task. Weeds are a a problem in farming. Weeds are such a serious problem that some scientists specialize in weeds and agricultural experts go around advising farmers how to get rid of weeds that have the potential to destroy a crop or at least reduce the yield of the crop substantially. Weed eradication can be expensive and complicated. I hated weeds. I spent several weeks each summer of my high school years hoeing weeds out of sugar beets. The summer after I graduated from high school I hoed weeds with my sister Liz for what seemed like centuries. Up one row. Down another. Hack away on weeds and volunteer alfalfa. Get a drink of water. Then another row. My high school education certainly qualified me for this wonderful experience. I became dearly attached to my favorite weeds like beggar's lice, bog weeds, and other unknown and noxious predators among our growing sugar beets.
I remember working in the pea fields for my neighbor one summer. The peas were raised for a nearby cannery. The sunflowers and other annoying weeds were so high that we had to sight the end of the row by keeping our eye on the telephone pole at the side of the field. Invading weeds are a menace to agriculture.
Just as sprouting and growing weeds can choke out and destroy a farm crop, so can unwelcome predators and invaders keep us from achieving our personal goals. When we think about the reasons why we have taken so long to begin to make the changes we have needed to make for weeks, months, or even years, we can likely visualize fields of weeds that have sprouted up and choked out our good intentions. Just as beggar's lice will proliferate in an uncultivated field, so will doubts and detours prevent us from losing weight or making any other change we know we need to make.
Task number 170: Don't let the weeds choke out the seeds you have planted. Just as we must hoe, spray, and destroy weeds in the crops we sow and cultivate, so must we keep the doubts and excuses that keep us from doing what we need and want to do from proliferating and gaining a foothold that we then find almost impossible to obliterate. Good luck, keep going, and hoe your weeds. The Curmudgeonly Professor.