Once upon a time there was a young farmer, who was given a small plot of land by the father of his newly wed spouse. They were so excited to build their first little home and get to work on the land that they had been granted. A generous gift and everything looked bright and the young man, with a full steam of ambition, started working his field. Of course, the field had lots of problems. There were several tree stumps to be cleared, the soil was very rocky and the clay build up in the soil caused drainage problem. Although he had the rights to the field, he was low on the pecking order of water rights and as a consequence had to be really judicious about the water that he did use. He could not immediately start farming the more expensive cash crops, rather opting for crops that were more tolerant of low moisture and could grow in the harsh soil conditions of his land.
One day, as he stood at the corner of his property trying to clear a ditch of the accumulation of mud and debris from a recent rain he stood watching one of his neighbors, his wife’s cousin, working his plot of land. He already had already got his first crop sprouting and the field already had a green glow as far as you could see. The young farmer could see no rocks, no weeds, and what looked like a healthy and vibrant soil. That is when he first had the though that would lead to his demise, “If Only,” I could have started with a field like that then I would be more productive. I would be able to grow a better crop, I would have more income to start my crop rotation earlier next year. I could hire some people to help me clear this field and I would produce nearly 3X as much as I am now. If only.
With that thought, he began to work on his relationship with his father in law. He spent more time talking to him about the future, about the possibilities. During those conversation, he agreed to a higher percentage of payout to his father in law to gain some early favor. He really needed to keep every dime he had, but he felt that the sacrifice was worth it as he was gaining favor and would be in line to get the next land grant. Well, that day came sooner then expected. His wife’s cousin had an accident while cutting his first crop and was unable to work his fields. His father in law granted him the land, with the promise that if he maintained it well he could be name the permanent steward. The young man now had twice the land and the beautiful field neighboring him was his.
Things at home were getting tight. They now had one child and another on the way. Money was not coming in and he discovered that his cousin in law’s farm was highly leveraged. There were some massive debt payments and the farm yielded very little profit. Adding that to the imposed franchise fee by his father in law, he was barely able to maintain operations through harvest. The family suffered, food supplies were short and his wife had to start looking for work as a seamstress just to be able to buy much needed supplies from the local mercantile. This came to head one day, when he had to take the money his wife earned from sewing some blankets for a local orphanage to buy a new blade for a scythe. His wife took the kids home to her mom’s house, just so they could have something to eat. He was upset because of the impression that would give to his father in law, she was upset because they did not have enough to feed their children.
On his way back from the Coop, where he bought the new blade and the seed for next year’s planting he met another young farmer who was working the acreage south of him. He was using a new wagon that he had purchased, and it was beautiful. As he slung some very heavy seed bags over his back as he walked back to his farm, this young man had his new wagon full of newly purchased seed, and various tools for the winter. His southern neighbor was preparing to clear another 5 acres, so that he could expand his profits next year. Our young man, choking on the dust from the wagon as it pulled away, thought to himself, “if only,”. If only I had that wagon, and those tools then I could get my main field cleared and then I could start growing a crop with a higher profit yield. He decided to put his load down under a shaded tree and walked over to his brother in law’s house. He owned the local savings and loan that held his credit line with the coop. He inquired what his option would be for raising money to speed up his yield for next year. When his wife came home from dinner that night, she found a brand new wagon and several new tools being assembled by the staff.
I think you know how this ends. The young man loses his family and by himself he is left to live in this small house and maintain the land that he has in his possession. He continues to wonder, “if only” and as he does so slides further and further into debt. Eventually, he loses complete favor with his father in law and ultimately loses his farm and loses everything. He ends up working as a hand, on the farm of his southern neighbor and gets to watch the young son of his brother in law take over his farm and raise the first crop of high yield vegetables. As he eats his daily ration before going to sleep in his ranch hand bunk, he looks out over his former field and thinks, “if only,” my father was a banker like his then I would have had all the financing that I needed to get started.
The curse of the if only is something everyone faces. We need to all learn to maximize what we have been provided, and quit trying to extend our reach over things we cannot improve. If you cannot improve what you currently have, how are you going to improve what gets added to you?