Homesteading is an age-old form of gaining common-law right to property. A piece of land that is unowned or abandoned can become yours if you improve upon and maintain it for a period of time. In the American West, pioneers would find a parcel of land they liked and stake it out as their own. So long as they built fences or signposts or boundary markers of some kind and generally maintained the property, it was considered theirs. Smart pioneers would homestead more than they could gainfully farm at first, looking to the future and leaving open the opportunity to expand their operation. We may not have vast stretches of unclaimed land today, but the need to homestead some metaphorical acreage is still very real.
You have a body of knowledge, expertise, and a set of activities that define you. This is your brand. I’ve written before about the danger of being hemmed in by your brand, especially if it’s a successful one. But how exactly can one prevent it? By homesteading more space than you can currently occupy.
If you really enjoy architecture and keep in the back of your mind the idea that someday you may put a lot of yourself into it, whether vocationally or avocationally, you need to stake out a territory that includes architecture, and keep the underbrush trimmed so it doesn’t begin to encroach on your homestead. Maybe you’re a lawyer, and all your friends and associates know you as the law guy. If you keep your passion for architecture under the surface for twenty years, never letting it see the light of day, it will be a lot harder to make a sudden switch from law to design. People will find it odd and see it as a frivolous deviation from your brand. You will feel a lot of pressure to prove that you’re serious about it. It will take a monumental amount of courage and resolve to make the move, and you will have to steel yourself against the reactions should you fail at first. It’s like homesteading a virgin wilderness full of hostile flora and fauna.
If, on the other hand, you staked out your creative territory early in dimensions far beyond just lawyerdom, and you maintained your property line with the occasional foray into architecture, the opportunity to make a move later will be far more real and the transition far less daunting. Maybe you keep copies of popular architecture magazines around for inspiration, and to let visitors see that you consider it a part of who you are. Maybe you write about it from time to time, or offer amateur architectural tours of your city. Maybe you keep a design table in your house and draw up blueprints. Whatever it is, if you maintain the fringes of your property, it will be a lot easier to occupy it should the opportunity arise.
I make myself post a song or a poem once a week on this blog. It feels a little odd sometimes, and It’s a little embarrassing. But I love creative writing and keep in the back of my mind the possibility of composing short stories, recording songs, or working on film scripts as something I may want to put more of myself into someday. I feel like it’s somewhere in me, but not yet ready to fully occupy my energy. If I go on only producing what currently comes more naturally, commentary and prose, one day I’ll feel the urge to emerge creatively and it will feel like such a drastic transition it may be overwhelming. I want to trim the weeds back at the corners of who I am by a little creative writing here and there. I want it to be public, so that a later switch won’t seem quite as out of left-field to the observing world. I’m under no illusion that posting a song once a week means I will be taken seriously should I become a full-time songwriter; far from it. It won’t be quite as scary though, and I’ll have a little more confidence being used to putting my creative side out there.
Think about who you are, what you love, and what far-fetched dreams you entertain. Draw a generous property line that includes even the most out-there interests. Homestead it, and keep title to your identity with regular maintenance. You never know when you’ll want to expand your brand. If you never do, who cares. You won’t have lost anything by keeping your boundaries wide.