Thoreau Thursdays (51): Building Castles, Building Foundations

April 5, 2012

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be.  Now put the foundations under them.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

The closest photo I've got of a castle in the air -- Mont St. Michel, 2002

Mont St. Michel, 2002

“Humanity does not require inspiration, the companion not just of poets and novelists but also of musicians, painters, not to mention some scholars and clergymen and even those who write (wrote) wonderful long letters, because it’s accompanied by euphoria, bliss (although it is).  We need it above all because it raises us above the petty network of empirical circumstances that make up our everyday lot and confinement.  It lifts us above the quotidian so that we can scrutinize the world attentively and ardently.”
— from A Defense of Ardor: Adam Zagajewski Essays, translated by Clare Cavanagh

“We spent our lives making livings.”
— Jonathan Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Perhaps one of my biggest failings is not having big enough dreams.  I was never encouraged as a child to think big, in fact, “You think you are so big” was a common criticism you wanted to avoid being aimed at you.  Now that I am older, I think about lost potential and buried talents.  And it grieves me to think I may have squandered my gifts on making a living.

Of course, it is not too late to plant a castle in the air, to dream big.  And then to build the necessary foundations, stone by stone.  And at my age, I’ve learned a few lessons about how to go about this:

  •  It takes dedication and hard work.  Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, says that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything.  Or, as Henri Cartier-Bresson said, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”
  • Falling short is normal.
  • Success come to those who don’t quit.  Rewards come to those who persist and persevere.
  • Don’t wait for inspiration.  Results will come out of the process of work, work, and more work.
  • Don’t spread yourself too thin.  Make your foundation-building work the top item on your daily To-Do lists.
  • The journey is the destination.

I like the dual message of Thoreau’s quote this week — have big dreams and castles in the sky but not without building strong foundations to support them.

P. S. One of the bloggers I follow, Adrienne at the Whiteley Creek Bed & Breakfast in Minnesota, recently recounted how Thoreau’s quote about castles in the air applies to her life.  You can read her post here.

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