I learned one of the most valuable lessons of my life staring into a pit of red, Georgia clay.
I was a freshman in high school and I’d stayed after school to make up a test. My Dad rarely came to pick me up, but that day he needed to check on a job site in the area. We’d stop by on our way home. Two birds with one stone.
In time, he would become one of the top commercial builders in Atlanta. He built tall buildings, shopping malls and everything in between. But this was one of his first big jobs, a multi-level strip mall – one that we’d probably shop at, so it felt like a big deal to me. I remember feeling proud of him when he told me about it. Three weeks had passed since he began, so I was excited to see the progress.
We pulled in and parked. Dad grabbed his clipboard and a yellow legal pad and opened his door. As soon as I stepped out of the car, I could tell something was wrong. There was nothing to see. No frame, no walls. No bricks, or shops. Nothing at all.
Heads are gonna roll, I thought, but he didn’t seem rattled at all. And to tell you the truth, it bothered me. He should’ve been angry. What had they been doing for three weeks?
“Unimpressed?” I must not have been hiding my feelings very well.
“Looks good to me…What did you expect to see?”
“I don’t know…At least some framing. It seems like a long time to not have anything done.”
Dad looked back at me over his shoulder and smiled, but kept walking.
He led me over to a big hole in the ground in the center of the site. It didn’t look like anything to me, but Dad saw something different. He stopped and bent down, waving me over with his clipboard.
I was about to learn something that had led him for years.
I knelt beside him and looked into the hole. It must have been at least fifteen feet deep. And as I looked closer, I began to see it was part of an elaborate series of trenches forming a perimeter around where the building would soon sit.
Dad took a few minutes to explain how it all worked together and why this hole was different from the next. He told me they’d fill them with concrete and metal stakes that would secure the building in place.
When he was finished, he looked me in the eyes and said, “You always have to build down before you can build up. You’ve gotta dig deep if you want to build high. Your most important work is the work you do before anyone notices or cares…It’s what makes everything else stand in the end.”
Even in that moment, I realized he wasn’t just talking about the building. He was talking about what we build with our lives. But as a fourteen year old kid, I didn’t get it as much as I thought I did.
“I hear you, but isn’t this a bit overboard? Seems like you could have done less and you’d be halfway done by now.”
“Maybe…but a storm’s coming. They always do. And you gotta decide up front how big a storm you’re gonna be ready for. The time to prepare is way before it shows up.”
I may not have fully understood at the time, but the years since have certainly made his point clear.
The grander your dream, the deeper you have to dig to make it happen. And it doesn’t matter how impressive things might seem above the surface. If the foundation isn’t solid, your beautiful building, or career, or life will end up crooked and sinking in time. It’s about the foundation, what’s underneath it all. It’s about how you’ll hold up in the storm.
Maybe you’re like me. Once I dream a dream, I want it now. I need to see results to feel like life is moving forward. And if I’m honest, sometimes I’m tempted to feel disappointed by what I’ve built with my life so far.
I’m doing all I know to do – but every now and then, I look up and wonder what I have to show for it. There’s still so much work ahead. Will I ever get there? Will I ever get this thing built?
Wrong question. Instead, let’s ask ourselves this.
How deep does my foundation reach?
What can my dream withstand?
What will happen when the rains come?
Because a storm is coming. They always do, you know. And the ground beneath you must be able to support the weight of the dream and the hope inside you. The bigger your dream, the deeper you’ll have to dig – the longer you’ll spend in quiet preparation before anyone seems to notice or care about what you’re building.
If your foundation is sure, pay no attention to what things look like today. Keep going – keep building. Brick by brick. Stone by stone. And in time, you’ll find that what you once dreamed of is now reality…and it will stand.