Boots are built on a wooden last, which is removed after the boot is complete. The overall fit and quality of the boot depends on how closely the last is shaped to your foot. Custom made boots start by carefully measuring the customer’s feet and forming the last to those measurements. This is the foundation of a great boot.
Saddles are built on saddle trees, the best of which are wooden and covered with rawhide. The best saddles are fit to the rider and horse, and though the tree remains in the saddle, the foundation of the entire saddle is not visible in the finished product.
Similarly, other objects like a glasses case for a belt is formed from wet leather rubbed into shape on a wooden foundation that gives shape to the final object.
One of my most important mentors was David Grant, a great man and chemistry professor at the University of Utah. I was an undergraduate researcher with Dr. Grant, and he was one of the small handful of people who showed me that science could be a satisfying career. When I left the University of Utah with a BS in Chemistry and was heading to the University of Wisconsin for my PhD, Dr. Grant gave me some sage advise:
If you work hard at each stage in your life, everything that follows is easier. (David Grant)
Dr. Grant was essentially telling me to build my scientific career the same way that I built saddles. The early stages of making a saddle can be tedious and doesn’t yield anything beautiful. After the dimensions and properties are determined and the tree is made, the ground seat is constructed, which consists of several layers of leather that are carefully formed to the backside of the rider. We always had a fitting at the ground seat stage, because if it doesn’t fit right, nothing will work right in the finished saddle.
Education is like the tree of a saddle. Careers are built on top of both formal and informal education.
More generally, the foundation of a life is the sum total of the parts that add together to make it: relationships, art, music, reading, learning, nature, exercise, eating, sleeping, and career. A New Year provides the time to reflect on these sorts of things, and the way we choose to spend our time will have a lot to do with how well the saddle fits.