The historical paradox of the first step of pioneering a new future
About two decades ago, I was sitting on an overturned apple crate in the beautiful garden that consumed an acre of my grandfather’s ranch, watching the hay being baled in the back pasture. He next to me, explaining the great care that goes into cultivating land so that it can produce, and reproduce year after year.
My grandfather was a WWII Army veteran. After returning home from the war, he and his brother transformed a few hundred acres on the Red River into a thriving family ranch. On this day, as we watched the land being cultivated, he talked a bit about the war. It was one of maybe only a half-dozen times he ever did, throughout his entire life.
That year, in 2008, I was talking to him about how scary the recession seemed. Now that I was a freshman in college, I felt like I saw it from a new, less protected perspective. “This is far from the first and far from the last”, he said in his quietly strong voice, “but look around.” He was pointing to the remaining 40 acres he still farmed well into his 80’s. “When I returned home, my generation turned to the ‘Dream’. Y’all will too.”
He spoke about how many people he knew left for the war young, full of a myriad of willy-nilly ideas. A long life ahead of them. Full of grand ideas for this future- coming home heroes, and making it somehow. In his words, “For a lot of us, we came home, and recognized that returning to the roots and cultivating a quiet life- that’s the rich life. Y’all will figure something out like that. You’ll meet your generation-changing mountain, and see if you can become the next greatest generation.”
“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”1 THESSALONIANS 4:11-12
If he could be summarized in a verse, that was it. Growing up and visiting his farm, he’d quietly interlace what that lifestyle really meant, and why it was so important. And it wasn’t until he talked about the war that I began realizing that the land we were looking at healed him; knit him back together. He intentionally sought out the honesty that can only come from nature; the grit and (very) hard work of farming and ranching that’s unparalleled by much. Backbreaking work, working with your hands, praying for rain, and choosing a life fueled by faith isn’t romantic, but it can heal you and leave a legacy. It gave him a place to raise his family in peace, learning faith, discipline, and stewardship at a young age, and so much more.
That was one of the last 1:1 conversations we had. Fast forward 10 years later, I was sitting at another kitchen table- this one with a then-friend who was lamenting how it seemed like “homesteading” felt like it was becoming a mainstream trend-and because it was a trend, inherently losing its authenticity behind the concept, and the concept was getting watered- down. “Not a trend”, I said- “we’re seeing the (or an) iteration of this era’s American Dream.” The pursuit of a richness in life; the seeming juxtaposition of turning back towards the work after overcoming the obstacle; and at the same time, the pursuit of simplicity.
The American Dream
Defined so many ways, it can be simplistically boiled down to the unwavering belief that there’s a rag to riches opportunity for everyone- anyone can alter the course of their own destiny.
This New Era exists because we were handed a year of turmoil. Norms were toppled, status quos called to question. We’re no longer just going through the same motions. Covid and the global geopolitical events have ushered in a new renaissance on an individual level. Instead, we’re returning to our roots to create something new. This paradox has occurred before in history: the Renaissance of the 15th century.
An interesting, clear statistic is quickly apparent when studying the New Era: the trend of young families moving to land instead of cities, and the rise of homesteading. Post 2020, there was a dramatic rise towards homesteading, buying land, even expats moving abroad. You may have absolutely no interest in that lifestyle, but here’s why it’s a critical piece in the analysis of this New Era: it’s an indicator of a new search for “more”; more purity, more grit, more beauty.
No matter what it looks like for you, we’re no longer just going through the motions.
What we culturally went through (are going through) together is for something. It’s not just something that happened to us, it was the training ground for change. It allowed us to throw off the shackles of stagnation and indifference, and instead, thrive. To uncover originality and manifest our own destiny, and create something of enduring value.
One of the clearest historical parallels to this movement was, of course, the Renaissance. Marked by three core tenets: art, architecture, and science. After the Dark Ages, a movement that began with rediscovering culture and a renewed focus on beauty became a cultural movement. It revitalized a culture and brought it back to life. The patronage of artists to first create replicas of artwork from storied centuries past led to a renewed value placed on beauty and creation. That search for beauty, both artistically and culturally, largely occurred through the vehicle of architecture, and building structures that last to this day. We can see that in structures such as the Vatican and the Duomo today.
The paradox: a culture’s return to its roots is what directly propelled it out one of the darkest periods in human history.
As we come out of our own dark period, in many ways we’re seeing hints of our society’s own paradox of returning to roots in order to propel forward. It looks different for everyone, of course. For some, it’s following that voice that’s quietly always been there, and entering the world of entrepreneurship. Or pursuing that second career they’ve always been curious about. For some, it looks a bit more pastoral. For some of us, a bit of both.
But speaking broadly, there’s been an undeniable reassessment of what the intersection between life, lifestyle, and vocation looks like. Life by design; & manifesting our own version of The American Dream. A search for those moments outside just achieving that bring a different type of richness to our lives.
Sometimes pioneering looks a lot like returning to our roots after all.