Updated on 07.13.10

O Pioneers

Trent Hamm

Come my tan-faced children,
Follow well in order, get your weapons ready,
Have you your pistols? have you your sharp-edged axes?
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Our adult lives are a long journey, and as with all journies, those who prepare adequately for that journey will see the most success.

The preparations you make when you are a child will serve you the longest, but they are also the most expected ones.

The preparations that really set you apart are the choices made when you become an adult. Do you choose to prepare for the journey ahead by spending recklessly, becoming tethered to debt and to a job? Or do you choose to prepare by spending less than you earn, saving the difference for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead?

Do you have your tools for success? Or do you have your burdens for failure?

For we cannot tarry here,
We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger,
We the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

This journey will happen. You will march forward in your life. Many of you will end up taking on responsibility on this road – responsibility for ailing parents, responsibility for children, responsibility for subordinates, responsibility for the tasks you’re paid to accomplish, responsibility for the upkeep of your dwelling … and of yourself, your health, and your mind.

Again, it comes back to preparation. Did you prepare in advance for these responsibilities? When the responsibilities fall on you, are you making the right choices to live up to them?

The choices are hard and the traps are many. But part of adulthood is that others depend on you. You are in the prime of your life and that means that others look to you for leadership and for help and for assistance. Your spouse. Your children. Your parents. Your coworkers. Your employees. Your friends.

Are you ready for that? Every day is an opportunity to prepare – and to see the rewards of that preparation.

An emergency fund.

A set of short term and long term goals.

A savings plan for retirement – and for college – and for the major purchases in your life, like homes and automobiles.

O you youths, Western youths,
So impatient, full of action, full of manly pride and friendship,
Plain I see you Western youths, see you tramping with the foremost,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

The truth is that many of us don’t prepare adequately. We charge forward into the wilderness of adult life without our figurative sharp-edged axes.

I certainly did. I discovered that the responsiblities of adulthood are very rarely trampled. Without that preparation and without that diligence, the responsibilities of being an adult often curl around your feet like vines, holding you in a place you might very well not want to be.

We charge off impatient and full of action. We’re already carrying the burden of student loans. We buy a home and take on a mortgage. We buy a car and take on a car loan. We furnish that home and our lives and we wind up with credit card debt. And the vines curl around our feet.

Instead of focusing on trampling forward through these vines, take the time to slash through them.

Pay off your debts and save for those big expenses.

Spend less than you earn, and put a clear but strict cap on your nonessential spending.

Don’t let those things that trip you up and tie you down hold you in place. Slash through and keep walking forward.

Have the elder races halted?
Do they droop and end their lesson, wearied over there beyond the seas?
We take up the task eternal, and the burden and the lesson,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Many of us find ourselves taking on the burdens of the previous generation as they move on to new ones. At my age, I’m taking on the burdens of parenthood as my parents set their burdens aside. I’m taking on the burdens of being a leader in my community as others retire, step back, and pass on.

Humanity is constantly building a road to the future, and every day people walk off that job, leaving behind their tools and materials. We step in to those roles and take on those jobs and do our part to build that road.

We are adults. No one pays our bills for us. No one does our work for us. No one budgets for us. No one sets goals for us.

It is up to us to take on these responsibilities and do it ourselves.

All the past we leave behind,
We debouch upon a newer mightier world, varied world,
Fresh and strong the world we seize, world of labor and the march,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

We don’t have to follow the paths of the past, either.

We don’t have to strive to have a lifetime job at the same company. We can be self-employed. We can jump from job to job and career to career until we find the right match.

We don’t have to own a home immediately after college. We don’t have to have a car when there’s a bus stop just down the street. We don’t have to get married and have children right away.

We build our own path to the future, as long as we have the tools to do it.

Till with sound of trumpet,
Far, far off the daybreak call–hark! how loud and clear I hear it wind,
Swift! to the head of the army!–swift! spring to your places,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

– Walt Whitman, Pioneers! O Pioneers!

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  1. Emma Skinner says:

    Fantastic post Trent, just the inspiriation I needed to read today after a long day of deliberating over my career. Thanks.

  2. southcampus says:

    Like to post, preparation is key in any faceut of life. Pray for the best and prepare for the worst. thank you for these early morning reflections. keep up the good work.

  3. I can appreciate the optimism in this article, yet, at the exact same time, I find it filled with pessimism and negativity, maybe oddly enough.

    The picture you paint of adulthood seems rather bleak, as though we will without question find ourselves in bad situations using phrases like: “the responsibilities of being an adult often curl around your feet like vines, holding you in a place you might very well not want to be.”

    Yes, people should prepare for the bad times in life, they should have a plan but I don’t feel that fear of the bad is the best motivator for preparation.

    I don’t know, I think this is a good article with a good message, a fair and honest one, no doubt, but still somehow rubs me the wrong way. Maybe its that I’m still in the “Western youth” stage in life where I tend to search for good rather than the bad in life. I have a tendency to shuck off bad thoughts and only focus on best case scenarios.

    Either way, interesting article, Trent. Maybe I’ll re-read it to see if I might have taken the tone wrong or am reading into something I ought not to.

  4. Maureen says:

    “I’m taking on the burdens of parenthood “.

    The negative tone here surprises me since you have always come across as a proud and involved dad. Being a parent can be exhausting physically, emotionally and even financially, but it is also a joy. Perhaps you just need some more quality sleep. Parenthood brings many responsibilities, hopefully not burdens.

    You are not really taking on your parents’ “burden of parenthood”. They already raised their family. That ‘burden’ no longer exists. You are raising your OWN family, by your own choice. You have written before about how you and your wife planned for and, I thought, waited for the arrival of your third child with excited anticipation. I’m sure you never want your children to feel that they were a burden to you.

    My children are now almost adults themselves. As my late mother would say “when they are young they are a handfull, when they are older they are a heartfull”. I have to say though that I have never felt parenthood was a burden. I hope I pass on to my children my belief that being a parent was not a burden, but the very best thing that ever happened to me. My children are my greatest blessings.

  5. Guilherme says:

    It was one of the best articles that I´ve ever read in this blog. Thank you, Trent!

  6. Kevin says:

    Certainly an interesting conceit for a post, but I’m not certain you’ve thought this through very thoroughly, as Maureen points out.

    And Trent, “journies?” Have you no spellchecker? Yikes.

  7. I’m glad you brought up impatience because that’s a great word to describe the financial burdens we put on ourselves. We get caught making irrational decisions because we “want it now.” I’ve struggled with this myself both as a consumer and as a business owner. Even if you feel you’re as independent as they come, sometimes habits & things we think we “need” end up conspiring against us.

    What I find helpful is to take a step back and write down on paper the pros and cons of what it is you think you “need,” and to really hold yourself to strict interpretations of “pros.” (I.E. “Because it’s cool” or “because everyone has one” isn’t valid to be a “pro” in my book.)

    I still struggle with this myself though so I have a long way to go.

  8. Jordan says:

    What a fantastically creative take on what has essentially always been your message. I love to see you find new ways to send your message out – because everyone comes to this idea in their own way, so telling the same story in a different way is going to spread the word further. I can actually hear this working really well as a speech!

  9. Ashley says:

    Sounded like a sermon I would hear at church. No thanks.

  10. Tall Bill says:

    It’s a way different post addressing your usual Trent. Sorry, but not my style either – get enough at other places. Hope you’re not intending to go this direction…

  11. chacha1 says:

    Trent, fwiw I think this is possibly the strongest thing you’ve ever posted here.

    I haven’t read all your archives, admittedly, but to me this had the most definite “voice” and the most potent sense of belief of all that I have read from you.

  12. Kittie says:

    sometimes I think people get “hung up” on certain words and miss the point. I certainly didn’t read this and think you felt your children were a burden to you. You might have chosen a different word to mean the same thing and it wouldn’t be so “negative.”
    I enjoyed it as you wrote it. I get too little poetry and good literature in my life. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Bettsi says:

    Trent, I enjoyed this post very much and found nothing negative about it- simply a different way of expressing truth. Thank you!

  14. Sam says:

    Great take-aways:
    “pay off your debts and save for those big expenses.”
    “Spend less than you earn, and put a clear but strict cap on your nonessential spending.”

    Cant tell you how many times I’ve head this, but to actually implement them in your life can save so much grief. Great rules to live by!

  15. J. O. says:

    @ Maureen

    “You are not really taking on your parents’ “burden of parenthood”.”

    I think Trent was talking about the general burden of parenthood.

  16. J. O. says:

    Trent, a delightful analogy, analysis, and advice. Good job, in my opinion.

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