Starting when I was 14, I worked a construction job with my Dad. For those unfamiliar with the construction industry, it’s a highly unstructured environment where things are often done ad lib. It’s no surprise that it’s also one of the least resource-efficient industries in the world. Every day, we’d run up against a unique challenge that required knowledge gained from experience as well as mental flexibility. Sometimes we had to clear a path through thick underbrush for silt fence, hacking away at tree roots that got in the way of our trench. During warmer months, we would grade and stabilize along the sides of roads so water would drain properly. Sometimes we would spend months just piling up dirt in one area of the job.
Every day, I came home covered in grease, mud, and sometimes straw. Looking back, I realize that although I hated it sometimes, this job set the foundation of my career and my outlook on life. One of the best things about working in land development is seeing the site come to life in the wake of your work. Houses would spring up along areas that we graded, and people would move in. Silt fence would prevent runoff from getting into people’s yards. Areas that were nothing more than dust and mud holes became playgrounds and green spaces. What began as an empty stretch of land turned into a home. Having a hand in that process is nothing short of humbling, and although I’ve since moved on from land development, I still carry that service-oriented mentality with me everywhere I go.
Every good house starts with a good foundation, and the foundation, at its most basic level, is not the concrete footings of the basement. Rather it is the dirt beneath and the dirt surrounding the home that sets the stage. If the dirt beneath isn’t checked for compaction and stability, the home will be compromised as the ground shifts. If the entire housing development isn’t designed to facilitate proper drainage, houses will be prone to flooding.
So everything begins with the dirt, which means you have to be willing to get, yes, dirty. When working in land development, things will get ugly, and they’ll stay that way long before the job is done.
This involves tearing up grass, piling up dirt, digging out sediment ponds and trenches for underground piping. It means dragging dirt onto roads and cleaning it up. It means digging out silt from the bottom of a slope when it inevitably blows out.
All of these things are necessary to create prosperous communities, but the evidence of that hard work is never really given much thought. No one stops at a beautiful home and says “wow, look at this wonderful swale at the end of the driveway.” Most of you reading this probably don’t even know what the hell a swale is!
This brings me to my first point: great work isn’t always praised. It often seems mundane, monotonous, and unexciting.
But that’s the nature of all hard work. There is nothing exciting about the day-to-day work of most people. Yet most of us stand in awe of the results. The perfect catch. The buzzer beater. The stunning physique.
Take a look at someone like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He rolls out of bed at 4am and immediately hits an early morning run. His breakfast is followed by a brutal lifting session, then more food, then going to the set of whatever action movie he’s currently filming. Sounds like a wild and crazy life right?
Of course it doesn’t, yet we all have this notion that people like the Rock somehow live in a completely different universe from the rest of us. But they struggle in the dirt too. They too have monotonous daily tasks to complete. The difference is that they do them with a sense of pride, fully aware that these seemingly insignificant things play into the bigger picture. Self-improvement, be it mental, physical, or spiritual, is always an ugly process. But just like the site maintenance work I did all those years for my Dad, it’s necessary.
Each of us has to decide that we’re willing to embark on a process, a journey, towards long term prosperity. In the short term, this means making a mess of things. Things get dug up that we might not have been expecting, and hidden obstacles pop up everywhere. Chaos seems to prevail from the outset.
But not taking that first step to dig up the dirt in your life means you’ll always be an open field of unmet potential. You’ll never venture beyond your own surface level understanding of yourself, and you’ll always be subject to adverse weather events and unforeseen forces of nature.
A “home” is not just a merely physical structure. The “home” we are looking to build is the body, mind and spirit, since they are the levels of consciousness we operate on. If any of them are structurally unsound, we operate at a suboptimal level.
If your physical body is unfit to live in, or your mind creates barriers for you, you may build a nice-looking house, but beneath the surface there will be rot and instability.
To build a home that stands the test of time, you have to go deep before you go high.
Those who do this well are establishing the foundation for success in the long term. And while the end result may look shiny and clean on the outside, those who live there know the dirt it was built on.