Are We Overworking and Underthinking?

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Or just underthinking? 

Fifty years, maybe 25, is enough to realize a need to replace or repair most everything. The problem is not our plans, it’s the execution of them. New Year resolutions often fail before the end of January. Good resolutions, bad execution. 

Advice I received from a coworker in 1968, it came from his uncle; “You need to work two full-time jobs to make it. One to live on, the other to save for future needs and retirement.” He was convinced he was right; I wasn’t so sure. 

We worked in a plywood mill near Springfield. He also worked a fulltime job at a lumber mill pulling lumber from a green chain. Both jobs were tiring and demanding. He was thinking ahead by 30 or 40 years. Work harder not smarter. 

Today many of us are living on tomorrow’s money. Schools, businesses, waste water treatment plants, cities and families don’t feel the critical need to prepare for what they know is facing them somewhere into the future. We wrongly believe progress is achieved by borrowing from our future, or the futures of our children and grandchildren. Debt grows, futures are offered as collateral. We sign a contract of indentured servitude, convinced this is our way to progress. 

America’s small towns are dying because of that idea of progress. They have been for nearly two- hundred years, from the day they were first built. And it’s our fault, we Americans; intentionally unsatisfied with things the way they are. Nothing is ever quite good enough. We build obsolescence into all our creations, even our children (by improperly educating them). Almost everything wears out, and we know it. Depreciation knowledge is common but our preparations for it are far more uncommon than wise. 

Our shortcomings are manifold. We plan but fail to execute. Our hasty obsession with completing projects without concern for the sustainability of what we’re building gets in our way. American’s are more often in a “hurry up mode” than a “let’s think about it first mode”. 

Work harder, not smarter could be our greatest downfall. 

We build houses expecting to replace them rather than expecting them to last. Beautiful churches are called anchors of our communities until the ring of the Sunday chime tolls for the last time and the anchor fades away. Repair? Rebuild? 

Sustainable is the braggards word of the day, knowing he has never done anything that could be called sustainable. Sustainable is just another word for temporary. Planning has nothing to do with maintenance or replacement until the original is near collapse and demolition. Starting a community or business comes with intense planning including dozens of instructions and suggestions. Sustaining them  is a different set of thoughts altogether. Bridges will eventually crumble after years of neglect and poor maintenance. 

The examples of construction projects and collateral improvements and their rates of depreciating value are plentiful enough to estimate the life expectancy of new construction. If we know a school will need to be replaced in 50 years, shouldn’t we build into the community agreement a plan to save for that future investment? If your car will not be serviceable in ten years, shouldn’t you begin saving for that future expense at the beginning instead of scrambling for financing when the old clunker refuses to start? 

Don’t point fingers. We’re all guilty. Like a coach said in Junior High school, “Use your head for something besides a hat rack.” 

Greg Henderson is the retired founder of the Southern Oregon Business Journal. A University of Oregon graduate and a six year U.S. Air Force veteran. Contact him at

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