Thursday, November 17, 2011

farming vs. mining

Many moons ago, my cousin Brian pointed me to a really interesting blog post that inspired me. The premise is that you've bought a plot of land and have two choices -- you can farm that land, or you can mine it. Which do you do?

"If you farm," says author Wil Shipley, "you’ll have to purchase seed up-front, and work on it for a season before you see any profits. And every season you’ll plow most the profits (literally) back into the land and salaries and your mortgage. You husband the soil to ensure that it’ll keep providing for you for years and years. If you’re lucky, and if you do a good job, you’ll gather a following, sales will increase, and eventually you may make a tidy living. But every season, no matter how rich you get, you’re going to be back out there, breaking your back and working with the soil. When you finally retire, if you’ve done a good job, the soil is as good as when you first got it, and your farm will live on."

"Or," he continues, "you could mine; you’ll need some initial money to lease mining equipment, and to hire some people to work the mine. Then, bam: profit. You’re making money. You tear a giant hole in the ground and eke every last bit of metal out as quickly as possible; there’s nothing to preserve, there’s no soil to keep in condition. You’ll make a big score, then the land will be spent, and you move on, leaving an unusable crater."

He then goes on to parallel this analogy with starting a software company, which I won't go into, but it really applies to how you want to live your life on a broad basis. Are you willing to invest a part of yourself in your development on a regular basis, or do you want to get in, get out, and get emptied?

Some people are naturally long-term focused, and so for them, farming may come easier. Knowing that it's in their best self-interest may make eating healthy easier to do. Believing that insight will follow a week with no television may make it easier to bear the silence. But for people who are short term focused -- or even long-term focusers who are frustrated by their current situations -- mining may feel more rewarding.

And is there a way to combine both? Can you mine part of the land and farm others? Life is not black and white, it's much more of a continuum. And if you aim to land in farming more often than in mining, I think it's a winning proposition. Because the image of that "unusable crater" is pretty haunting.

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