Call it the wisdom of chickens.
While visiting a Rwandan chicken farm this summer -- and more on that in a moment -- I learned a transformational lesson about scarcity and abundance. Like the fabled birds of the air that neither toil nor spin and yet are beautifully arrayed, these chickens manage to be highly productive each day without ruffling too many feathers. Their secret? Quite simply, they trust the hand that feeds them.
After 18 months of dealing with a nagging fear I call "time scarcity," I finally found the solution -- or rather, it was staring at me with beady pale eyes. The problem was not my overly loaded to-do list, my tendency to over-commit, or even a hefty slate of projects. The real culprit was my perception.
But first, the chickens. The back story to this tale is that my college-age son, Patrick, had an internship in Rwanda this summer as a videographer for a U.S.-based organization called One Egg (www.OneEgg.org), which provides eggs to rural preschool children to increase the amount of protein in their diets. Since I have been to Rwanda several times, I had knowledge, contacts, and familiarity with logistics -- all of which would come in handy for Pat's project. So, I offered to accompany my son, sometimes to work together and sometimes separately.
As our departure day neared, no matter how well I planned for pending projects and other writing obligations, I worried about how I could be away for two weeks without falling hopelessly behind. I left with my briefcase loaded and my laptop charged, and I kept up with the most pressing issues by working evenings and communicating by email in the early and late hours when the feeble WiFi at our hotel was the strongest. But night after night, roiled by jet lag, I counted deadlines instead of sheep. I pushed myself to write when I was sleep-deprived until, finally, I had to give up, give in -- and act like a chicken.
I had some up-close and personal contact with my inspiration when I tagged along with Pat on a visit to a chicken farm that stands as a model for social entrepreneurship: creating jobs and teaching best practices in agriculture -- while also taking care of the needs of the local community. Eggs from the farm are purchased and distributed, thanks to sponsorship dollars, to very modest rural "child development centers" where three- to five-year-olds get a needed infusion of protein.
The food chain is an obvious one: Eggs, hard boiled on site over a wood fire, get into the hands of needy children because of the work at the farm, which is accomplished by well-trained humans and productive chickens. As for the latter, they do not worry about there being enough water, grain, or time to lay eggs. They just go about their business.
Watching the chickens "at work" I was struck by the realization that, no matter how much we want to complicate things, it really does come down to the simple ingredients of input, focus, and trust. My problem, I discovered, was that I have perceived scarcity in all three elements. I have worried about inputs from research to creative muse. My focus has suffered from feelings of being overwhelmed, which made trust all but impossible. No wonder I perceived time being scarce, because I wasted it on worrying about having enough time in the first place!
Having returned, my days are still are long and quite busy. But instead of viewing my daily calendar anxiously, wondering how I can squeeze out a few more hours, I plan well (thanks to my sister, Jeannie, my virtual assistant), use my time as wisely as I can, multitask where it makes sense, and put my trust in a beneficent hand that feeds me -- all the while assuring myself that I have enough, and I am enough. Each day I awaken and can work, I gratefully accept the supply of time allotted to me.
After all, worry never produced an extra hour -- and it never laid an egg.