Skilled workers of every age have prized their tools. I recently visited a Museum of Natural History and was amazed at the craftsmanship and precision of the sextants and chronometers that allowed explorers to map our world in the 18th and 19th centuries. Such tools must have cost many years' wages for the average person! I was reminded of how my Grandfather prized and cared for the tools he used on his farm. I vividly remember his showing me how to work a haybaler or oil the harness for his team of horses, tools from an age that is long-gone. But it brings up the question: What are the tools for our age, and what are the skills we will need to keep them "sharp" and useful? I suggest the following tools for your 21st Century Toolbox:
1. Extreme Self-Care: Just like early explorers took extraordinary measures to protect their compass and sextant, keeping them in beautifully finished wooden boxes, so in tomorrow's world we will need to be well-oiled, rested, polished and precisely balanced.
2. Response-Ability: In an earlier generation, a farmer could experiment with new crops or buy a "new-fangled" tractor over a period of several years. In the 21st Century, change will occur daily, and the ability to respond instantly will be the difference between success and total "crop failure."
3. Resource Management: In the 1930's the American Dust-bowl disaster was caused by a belief that the land was endless and resources were boundless, so farmers destroyed the sod, laid bare the land, and the wind simply blew it away. In the next century, the most successful will be those who manage their resources and have the most efficient reserves of creativity, time, space and energy.
4. Character: My great-uncle was known for the beautiful walking sticks he made by hand, carving them during the long winter months. Each one was unique and they have become family heirlooms. In the 21st century we won't leave our mark on wood or stone nearly as often as we will leave our mark on the memories of those who buy our products and services. But I expect the quality of our character will show through just as clearly as the marks he carved into those sticks testify to his patience, strength and dignity.
5. Fence Mending: Robert Frost wrote a poem about "mending wall", and said, "good fences make good neighbors". For a thousand generations, that meant piling rock upon rock, or stretching wire from post to post. In the 21st century, the principle remains the same. Boundaries, roles and responsibilities must be agreed upon, be clearly marked and be maintained.
6. Simplicity: I once heard that until the end of World War II, it was rare for any human being to eat anything that was not raised and harvested within 25 miles of them. Ask anyone who lived through the Depression if they remember the miracle of an orange, brought by special shipment all the way from Florida, as a Christmas treat. It happened once a year! In the 21st Century, those who achieve extraordinary success will be those who, in the midst of clutter and chaos, choose to simplify their lives, focus on their priorities, and pursue their goals.
7. Insatiable Curiosity: Something drove explorers to risk falling off the edge of a "flat earth". The "Mountain Men" (and women) explored the American frontier, and every child asks, "Where do babies come from?" or the eternal, basic question, "Why?" Curiosity will remain an essential tool for the new age. It will drive some to look, listen, experiment and learn new skills, while others will quickly be left behind.
8. Risk Management: This is a 20th century term for an ancient principle: Those who are too timid, get left behind, while those who are too impulsive, usually die young. In the 21st century, we will rarely face risks that are life-threatening, but those with the ability to accurately assess the risks and potential rewards in a new situation will flourish, while those who blindly resist change or blindly run after every new fad will quickly fail.
9. Contextual Creativity: My grandfather had no use for "modern art". He scoffed at the luxury of throwing paint at a canvas or using "gutter language" in poetry. For him creativity was grafting a branch from a pear tree onto an apple tree, and art meant growing more wheat per acre than any other farmer in the county. In the 21st Century, the most valued creators will remain those who can work with what lies at hand, and fashion something new and useful from what others have discarded as old, familiar and useless.
10. Lofty Aspirations: In every age, ambition counts for something. During the Depression, there was no more devastating allegation than that someone was "lazy." I remember my Grandmother scoffing that a neighbor "will never amount to nothing, he doesn't expect to!" Perhaps, in the new century, the most important of all tools will be the expectation that we can succeed, that we can contribute, that we can make a difference. Past generations expected life to be difficult, but they also expected to endure and overcome, and that expectation was tangible, it was as real as spring after the winter, and it kept them going. Aspiration is a powerful tool!
Whatever items you choose for your personal toolbox, choose wisely! To make a living and provide value to those around us, requires the ability to start with a vision, blend it with skill, and produce a result that has value in the real world. Almost always, whether it's the artist's paintbrush or the surgeon's scalpel, that means using tools. Please consider these ten for your toolbox!
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