I was recently asked to be on a discussion panel for a workshop sponsored by a local business organization and a start-up artisan mall called “Think Little,” a theme culled from a Wendell Berry essay. I’ve been mulling where the discussion may go and what I have to contribute. Here are some thoughts.
Having been in the throes of trying to start a small consulting business AND a non-profit catering to the local music scene where I live this past couple years, I guess I do know something about what Berry addresses as rebuilding “…the substance and the integrity of private life in this country.” He’s talking about authenticity, and that’s been the crux of a personal transformation I’ve undertaken as well.
While I had experienced success and growth in the first half of my life based on the “think big” mentality that Berry discusses, there was something missing. My inner life and outer life were at odds. So I set out to change that.
I started in my own backyard. I grew my first organic garden. At first I was impatient. There was a process that required nurturing and getting to know the micro-climate/ecosystem of my own ground. There was a lot to learn about soil and plants and bugs and weather. I had to admit I didn’t know what I was doing and ask lots of people for help. My “think big” mind envisioned this immediately lush, productive, self-sufficient garden, but what I got was barely enough to feed a rabbit. But something kept me at it, and by year three I was seeing results.
What I learned in that first garden about preserving rather than exploiting, nurturing rather than forcing, observing rather than pushing forward and tapping into the wisdom of other gardeners has served me well as I have remade my personal and professional life. By thinking little and growing slow, I have made an intimate and authentic connection with my community and the people my business serves. I’m starting to hit year three, and the harvest is getting better. I’m not worried about starving anymore because the think little, grow slow process has taught me what to do when things shift and change.
The “think little” approach is challenging and tedious at times. There are setbacks. It requires reaching out to others for help and adapting when the environment changes. But for creative entrepreneurs who want to be independent, authentic AND successful, thinking little and growing slow is a mental shift well worth working at. From a “think little” perspective, even a small harvest can be personally and communally substantial by developing strong roots as a foundation for future growth. And in Wendell Berry’s vision, thinking small is a vital element of advancing much greater ideals like freedom and peace and honoring the unfathomable ecological system in which we live.
Sounds to me like “think little” is really “think big” coming from an authentic and wise heart. And from that place, whatever happens is a “big” success! I’ll be sure to let you know what additional thoughts come out of the workshop.