“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Chinese Proverb
Our summer vacation this year was out west to 3 National Parks. We flew into Vegas, then drove an inordinate amount of time and miles to Zion, then Bryce and then the Grand Canyon. The sights were truly breathtaking. The beauty of God’s creation on full display. I couldn’t help but peer over the rim of the Grand Canyon and wonder why it was here. How was it formed? What purpose did it serve?
Turns out, incremental changes occur at a slow, but deliberate pace. As winter relinquishes its icy grip, the snow begins to thaw, and the resulting runoff obeys the laws of gravity as it descends along the nooks and crannies of the landscape. Slowly, yet deliberately, the soil, then the clay, then the bedrock itself erodes and are cut away. Winter after winter…spring after spring…year after year. Across the passing decades and centuries, these changes are inconspicuous to a passerby, and only after a millennia has elapsed do the tiniest shifts become perceptible. Give it a few thousand years, and you end up with the Grand Canyon.
But geological timescales are much different than our human frames of reference. In our context, big changes are impossible to ignore. Fire, the wheel, the printing press, electricity, cars – when such monumental shifts transpire, everyone takes notice. But the intriguing changes are smaller, incremental, subtly unfolding beneath our collective awareness.
Ultimately, this is how the world changes – slowly, gradually, one small step at a time…but it adds up. In Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” a character is asked how he went bankrupt. His response, “Gradually, then suddenly.”
I’m half into cars. I won’t even consider buying a model made before 2018. Why? Because the technology in vehicles before that year is just too outdated for me. I know, I know. I’m an entitled American, but I have needs! If I want to play my podcast, I need Google CarPlay! I had a friend once buy a car online. It was a base model, but it fit his budget. When the car was delivered, turns out it didn’t have power windows! He had to crank them up and down! Remember those days?!?! Thus, incremental changes in automotive technologies occur…gradually, then suddenly. Ergonomics get better, designs improve, minor problems are fixed, but the change from year to year is hardly noticeable. This new feature, that improved function, this new safety feature, that better engineering solution.
How about investing? Yep, same thing. Recently, I was reminiscing with a client about investing back when I started my career in the early 2000s (yes, I’m dating myself). Significant transaction fees, trade + 3 days for settlement, the Federal Reserve was a sideshow that maybe made news in the very back section of the Wall Street Journal. Nowadays, trading costs are zero, settlement is in 1 day or less and the news media hangs on every word that flows forth from our Federal Reserve Chair. Over the course of 20 years, a myriad of small changes has taken place…their impact hardly registering. However, if your grandpa were 25 years old today, he would struggle to recognize the nature of modern banking, let alone comprehend your brokerage account or portfolio. It’s so futuristic that it borders on being alien.
Changes compound, as does the accumulation of wealth. It’s mathematical magic that unfolds at a near geological pace. Yet, a dollar not spent, but invested today, can turn into thousands in the distant future. The marvel lies in the fact that these transformations occur…and this is how the world evolves. Gradually, then suddenly.
The Grand Canyon was majestic in its view. But it didn’t occur overnight. Neither will the changes you need to make. In your relationships, in your diet, with your physical health, in your faith walk, in your budget, in your professional life. While the best time to make these changes may have been 20 years ago, the second best time to start…is now. Then, gradually, but suddenly, you’ll be where you want to be, and in a better head space because of it.
May you, today, plant the seed of needed change. The harvest will be worth it.