The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.
This Chinese proverb hits close to home in today’s instant-gratification environment. We quickly scroll through news, music, TV shows, and social media posts that give us on-the-spot access to knowledge and experiences that used to take days, weeks, or months to obtain. We’re accustomed to accessing any question, medical diagnosis, or movie review with a simple swipe. Small wonder, then, that our collective attention span and ability to wait for results have become dramatically shortened, our patience in short supply.
While having so much, so quickly can be a wonderful thing, it creates a challenge to engage in – and stick with – things that take longer to grow and develop. Though we know in our hearts that a “slow and steady wins the race” approach often yields a better and more sustainable outcome, it’s difficult to muscle up the fortitude to make the investments of resources those efforts require. The tension between our instantaneous lifestyles and things that need nurturing becomes apparent in critical areas of society, like ensuring a future for our common life together.
Long-term community-building, like endowment-building or growing the next generation of community leaders, takes time. But it produces significant long-term impacts and helps everyone reap substantial benefits. Long-lasting community success requires the slow work of building a solid foundation around civic engagement, people attraction, workforce investments, and innovation.
To grow and thrive, communities must intentionally build resources that can transform themselves into attractive places to live, work, and raise families. In places like Nebraska, this can help slow out-migration, attract a quality workforce, create hope for future generations, and help retain our youngest and brightest. Strategic efforts now will result in broad, supportive community innovation, initiatives, and enhancements in the future.
But these things take time. They require fighting against our tendency to have the attention span of a goldfish, and our desire for quick results.
Taking the longer view means focusing more on mobilizing local assets for the future, rather than putting out fires. And it means having the patience and commitment to invest in enduring initiatives and ideas that will evolve and mature, rather than focusing only on those that produce speedy outcomes. We must move forward deliberately, cultivating connections and encouraging people to care about the community, about contributing to its growth and sustainability. These slow-to-grow efforts also mean planting seeds for outcomes that may not come to fruition in our lifetimes. But we do it anyway because we love our communities and want them to succeed long after we’re gone.
Growing the communities we love into places that always provide a high quality of life is a marathon, not a sprint. There is no shortcut, no quick and easy answer, no superhero to come and save the day. There is just you, your community members, your assets, organizations, and businesses working together. The work can cause us to wring their hands and lament that we should have started working on this ages ago.
The next best time to start is now.
We can wish all we want for the past, but that won’t make it so. It only delays the pursuit of the way forward.
Now is the best time to embrace this new reality and plan to tackle the future one future-focused step at a time. Now is the time to use the assets, knowledge, expertise, wisdom, social capital, and motivation already in your place to build your community. The people who live in a community are in the best position to decide how to build and implement a long-term strategy to meet needs, cultivate resources to make it happen – and steward those efforts into the future.
It’s time to plant some trees.
Tammy is a business owner and an active community philanthropist and change-maker. Her work focuses on innovative approaches to positive community change, such as Daycos4good, the Youth Philanthropy Contest, and the Philanthropy Council of Northeast Nebraska. For more Civic Nebraska Writers Group columns, click here.