growing great on long timelines

This is a picture of the Cathedral in Florence, popularly known as the Duomo. It is a wonderful, wonderful building. And it took more than 150 years to build, at a time when that represented at least three lifetimes. Most of the great cathedrals were built over similar periods.

It's hard to us to imagine conceptualizing work that spans many generations. We think of ten years as long term planning. As I grow older, I realize that ten years goes by far too quickly to qualify as long term. Ten years ago, I was raising little boys. I still see their eyes when I look at the young men who now (sometimes) occupy their rooms.

I wonder how their lives would be different if they were required, as part of their education, to conceive and begin a project that would be completed by their children's children. I wonder how their sense of the world would change if they had to make real, practical plans to begin something on that scale. I wonder how their sense of happiness would change if it included the impact of their actions two or three or ten generations from now.

It might have been Socrates who first said that a society grows great when old man plant trees in whose shade they know they will never sit. Almost every day, I sit and seethe with frustration at how little I have managed to get done. This is when I am measuring in terms of immediate impact and obvious success. When I sit back and measure in Socrates' terms, I am often less hard on myself.

I am finally old enough to see some seeds push through the ground, to see hints of how lives are different because of something I did ten or fifteen years ago. Sometimes, I am grateful for a seed come to fruition in my lifetime, planted long before.

Your life is different because someone worked at something once that had no immediate benefits for them.

Whose life will be different because you looked down through the generations and did something that made sense on that timeline?


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