Lee Pitts: A sustainable life
Scientists say that man is superior to all other forms of life because we have the ability to reason. Supposedly we are rational and animals aren’t. Anybody who has watched our Congress in action or a Border Collie herding sheep might think the opposite is more accurate. No, the real difference between people and animals is that we humans are never satisfied. We are all trying desperately to keep up with the Joneses, who are trying desperately to keep up with us, while the cows are chewing their cud, the horses are licking their lips and the dogs are all taking a nap.
Take my mechanic buddy, for instance. Ten years ago he was happy as a hog in mud. He was doing what he loved, working on cars while his wife did the books. They had a good business, a happy marriage and three great kids who they spent a lot of time with. But he wanted more. So, now he owns five shops, pays child support, sees his kids on weekends and is buried in paper work and employee problems. And he never gets to do what he really loves, which is getting his hands greasy working on cars.
I went to college with a fellow who loved to farm. For him there was nothing better than the feel of soil or a tractor seat. But he wasn’t satisfied either and felt he had to get bigger, so now he spends most of his time pushing paper, arguing with bureaucrats and trying to justify his existence. He’s paying other people to do what he loved to do and he recently told me, “It’s just not fun any more.”
Another friend used to own a small children’s store. It was a great little store and people came from miles around because of her unique stock and friendly service. She figured that if a little was good then a lot must be better so she rented a space that was twice as big, had to fill it with more generic clothing, and was out of business within a year.
It’s a recurring theme. If we have one million we want two. If we have a fishing boat we want a yacht. If we own one home we want a second, despite a lack of evidence that the man who owns ten homes, or ten horses for that matter, is any happier than the man who owns one. In our small town there was a builder who built the best three bedroom, two bath, family homes around. He built them one at a time and had buyers waiting in line, even in bad times. He worked hard, lived well, drove a new pickup and life was good. Then he decided he needed to “take the next step.” So, he picked a bad time to start six mini-mansions on spec. It bankrupted him and today he’s driving a bread delivery truck.
Another rancher friend raised the best kids, cows and hay on his own small place. It was what the environmentalists call “sustainable.” But he too wanted more so he borrowed money from the bank to expand to 500 cows. Now he’s sitting in a pickup instead of a saddle and getting plenty of windshield time as he reacts to disasters on his many far-flung leases. He admitted to me that he made more money and was much happier before, but he can’t quit now because he’s working for the banker.
I too was once almost seduced into making something of myself. We all want to leave our mark on this world and for me it was the allure of being a best-selling author, in the image of Erma Bombeck, Lewis Grizzard or Garrison Keillor. I’ll admit I was tempted to sign my life away on a contract to a New York publisher. Now, the reason I am a writer in the first place is because I love to write. I did it even when no one was paying me to do it. But as it was explained to me by the publisher, in order to be a writer I had to travel all over the country to do book signings, marketing myself. This meant that I would spend most of my time doing something I hate, which is being away from home and my wife, while traveling to big cities which literally make me ill. All this instead of doing what I love, which is writing something other than my autograph over and over again.
Luckily, I discovered a long time ago that I was infinitely happier having less and that I was very good, some might say exceptional, at being a nobody.