Friday, February 22, 2008

The Joy of Work...

"Work should be satisfying and enjoyable to us, then doing less or how hard it is will not be on our mind," writes Bud Williams in this months issue of "The Stockman Grassfarmer". That is sound advice to live by, but I would say that most people believe that it is not attainable. The argument that most people have is that there are just too many jobs in this world that people plain don't want to do. Maybe that is true, but I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that it isn't true.

A few years back I attended a seminar about finding your strengths and then working within your strengths so that you will be most effective in what you do. It was a great week of study and personal reflection and I believe that it has really helped me in my youth ministry (that was the reason I went), but the leader for the week had also lead these courses all over the country at Fortune 500 companies and even for hotel workers. I think one thing that I took away from the week is that there are people passionate about doing many things that I would think isn't that exciting. One of the main problems is that as a society we stigmatize those jobs so that the best candidates do not want to take them. And yes, in his travels and presentations we met plenty of people that loved what they did when it came to cleaning toilets and picking up after people!

So, the idea is that when you work within your strengths you will have more joy in the work you do, be more productive for yourself or your boss, and strive to learn and grow in what you do. That growth may even lead to a change in your strengths that could shift or change what you desire to do. Mr. Williams writes in the article, and I agree, that the problem is that we have so many things that we could possibly want. Having the money isn't the problem because we will work ourselves silly at jobs we hate so we can get the things we want! The problem is that once we get those things we want then we either don't have time to use them or we find something else to want.

What if we enjoyed what we did so much that we didn't feel the need to escape all the time and get away from the work? What if we were satisfied with doing a job and doing it well because we truly enjoyed what we did? Well, those are both possibly (and I don't think it is just a pipe dream) but our society has placed so much importance on wanting things that we can't see that our wants are actually leading to our sadness or depression.

Here are a couple more quotes that I think need to be drilled into our thoughts and our minds:

"So many people have wants and goals that conflict with what they are doing or what they have. I have one goal, that is to try to do better today than yesterday, and to want what I have. Then life is always good and work is interesting and fun."

"Life can be simple and work can be interesting and enjoyable, or we can want too much and life gets complicated and work gets hard."

What does this have to do with farming? Well, don't farm just because you think it is the only thing you can do! Don't farm because you want to get away from people or the busyness! Don't farm just because you like the smell of fresh air! Farm because you enjoy the work, you love interacting with people and providing them with wholesome food, and because you desire to become a better farmer each day.

Farming is hard, long, dirty, and stressful work. But, if you enjoy it then it is not work at all.


farm mama said...

I so agree with your post today. Choose to be passionate about what you do, and if you just can't, figure out a way to do something else that makes that possible. So much is in our attitude - if we expect (in our mind) to be fulfilled and successful (not necessarily financially), and stay plugged into our Source (which I believe is God), it will come about, sometimes in the most unexpected ways. We also have to be willing to disregard what other people think or say - stay true to yourself.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Farm Mama. Alot of the times in society today people begin to do something and regret doing it shortly into it. It's not a good cycle to start, because it will become the norm in your life. God gives us all spiritual gifts to utilize. If you seek out those gifts, you almost certainly know what you are meant to do. Conforming to other's standards almost always sets you up for failure. You will never make everyone happy;) Remember that:) Great insights today Ethan:)Thanks

Ethan Book said...

Good thoughts! It is great to hear from other like-minded folks out there...

Thanks for adding to the discussion!

Yeoman said...

"The argument that most people have is that there are just too many jobs in this world that people plain don't want to do. Maybe that is true, but I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that it isn't true."

Well, I'll present a counter to that argument, or at least a partial counter.

There are some jobs I'd freely admit that there's no reason to do them if you do not love them. And farming, in North America, is one of those jobs. In terms of pay, there'd be no reason that a person would feel that they had to do it, if they didn't want to. And in terms of opportunity, almost anyone who didn't want to do it, could do something else. So I would believe it there.

Beyond that, I'd argue that most farmers or ranchers I've met do indeed, love what their doing.

But we can't all be farmers and ranchers. Of course, many do not want to be either of those things.

However, the fact that we can't all be farmers and ranchers is unique to our era, in North America. Up until 50 years ago or so, anyone who wanted to farm or ranch could. Indeed, I'd guess that some 20 or 30 years prior to that, many who farmed did not want to, and it was the dream of many farmers and ranchers that their kids would escape the fields and live nifty lives in the city.

That brings me to my next point. For most people now, including for many farmers in terms of a second job, we are faced with diminished opportunities. Americans like to pretend that there are ever increasing opportunities, but there are not. Rather, in our modern economy many jobs that used to exist here do not. Those not born into agriculture are unlikely to be able to easily get in to it. And so on.

The remedy for that, it is often noted, is education. But even that is not a pure remedy. If you do not obtain some sort of post high school education, your economic fields are limited. But if you do, you will rapidly find that you are pigeonholed by your education. In other words, you better guess right about what you want to do when you are 18 years old, as it's very difficult, in spite of assertions to the contrary, to change course at 28.

This may all sound rather extreme, but consider this. I raise cattle, which is what I want to do. But I also have a professional job that I keep as I must. I can't get out of it (I've tried). And around 75% of all who are in it, in spite of it being one of those classic three supposed good jobs, want out of it also.

Without being too critical, I'd note that it's really easy to say that we should love our jobs. But our current society isn't creating lovable jobs. It should. Guys and gals who want to work blue collar jobs, or work in the fields, or work with books should be able to, and switching from one to another should be capable of being done without regret. But more and more, that is not true. We're re-creating the world our ancestors left, where our jobs are more and more dull and depressing, and our ability to switch out of them less and less.

Turning back to agriculture, part of that is an unreasonable stigma that attaches to agricultural jobs. But part of it is that you just can't go out and decide "I'm going to farm" and homestead anymore.

Ethan Book said...

Yeoman - That was a pretty well thought out answer and I'm not sure that I have the time to write an equally thought out answer. But, I'll throw out a couple of things ... from a slightly optimistic point of view. I try to be as optimistic as possible otherwise this life can seem overwhelming.

I do believe you can go and "homestead" in America today. You won't be able to live like your peers, but you will be able to get by if your raise your food and do odd jobs that you enjoy to raise the "needed" money to make it all work. There is account after account of folks making a quality living on 5 and 10 acres ... you just can't think of farming in the conventional sense any more.

You did hit the nail on the head, it is very hard to get into agriculture. But, it becomes more manageable if you are willing to think outside of the box and unconventionally. Take me for example ... I only have a two year degree that I didn't even finish until I had my current job. My wife does have a teaching degree, but she stays at home with the children. We are living on one small income and we are living very frugally. It is a choice we have decided to make. Because of our choices I believe we will be able to purchase at least 40 acres in the near future and I also believe that is enough (in my area) to farm full-time if I direct market and do things differently. I'm not starting with any family money, high priced education, or free land ... but, I strongly believe it can be done!

I am a non-conformist. I may agree with you to a point that our society isn't creating "likeable" jobs, but I am not going to make that be my case. I am going to work hard and find ways to work in my passion. I believe that is the American dream ... not this idea of someone else providing or giving what I desire.

As far as the 75% wanting out of your profession ... I say to that why did they get in? Nobody forced me to become what I do and if I wanted to I could get out ... I just may have a difficult time living at our current level. It really comes down to what we really value you as needs and wants, but that is just my honest opinion.

This may be over simplified ... it may be a bit idealistic ... it may be completely wrong ... but, I believe we need really examine our needs and our wants. The problem is that we have created a society that says our lives need to look a certain way (a way that my life looks nothing like), but we really don't have to live that way. It may cause some to stare or talk, but we do not have to be part of the system ... we can opt-out!

Just today I talked with a postman who loved his job to death, walking around day after day with mail ... A muffler guy who has been doing it for 40 plus years not because of the money but because he knows that he is making a difference ... An assembly line worker that enjoyed being part of his job ... and I received an e-mail from a janitor that does the job with passion. It is about our outlook. We need to realize that what the world tells us doesn't have to be the way it is.

Iowa State University would tell me I can't make it in farming. In fact the Iowa Beginning Farmer Loan won't even give me a loan because the don't think I can make it. But, I know that I can do it and do it full-time. It will take sacrifice for myself and my family, but we want it together so we will do what it takes...

Long rambling answer. But, I think these discussions our great because they really ... REALLY cause me to think. I hope other people find them mildly interesting :)

Steven said...

Yes, very interesting. I need the encouragement that this all brings. Sometimes I just think that I'm being too idealistic and it's nice to see that other people think it can be done too. But honestly, it will be nice a year or two down the road when these become in depth discussions on how to judge the cowdays in your pasture, or the best ways that the beginningfarmer'swife has found to cook Dexter Roasts!

Ethan Book said...

Very true Steven ... I hope that in a few years I can look back on this and see how everything has come together. Maybe I will be farming full-time, or maybe I will find that my passion is to continue working with the youth and to farm at the same time. Maybe some sort of "Cottage Farmer" as Gene Logsdon writes about.

As far as the Dexter roasts go ... we should have two that are ready to finish this fall and then two more in the spring. So, I'm hoping we are not to far away from getting a good dose of the tasty Dexter meat!

Yeoman said...


I'd say that your reply is equally well thought out, and perhaps more so.

I think in some ways what this gets back to is the topic that's occurred in several other posts here, which is a counterbalance between choices and sacrifices. If taken realistically, I think we all agree, the sacrifices are worthwhile, if realistically kept in mind.

Where I'm likely differing is that I view the available choices more narrowly, which might be an error on my part. To the extent I do, that's likely at least in part because the options in my area may really be more narrow, and perhaps because I don't have the leeway that might be available elsewhere. That's in part why the 75% we noted are stuck. People get in to one thing early on, and in some instances, that pretty much defines what others are willing to let you do. If that doesn't match our expectations at the time, it isn't so easy to unring the bell. If you've made wise choices early on (which I fear many do not, career wise, as we're so young when we make them), we're much better off. Ironically, the more specialized our training is, in many instances, the more we're actually occupationally illiterate, as others view us.

But, back to the main point here, to a degree I think what I'm looking at here is that options in this area differ by area, and that impacts how we view things. In part, it causes us to view them in error, as we're so used to seeing things the way they've always been done. In part, in some areas, it means our options are particularly narrow. I dread to think what it must be like for somebody wanting to enter farming in California, for example, if they have no farms to go to.

I'm not for giving up. Not at all. I may be more pessimistic, but that's not an argument to quit. Rather, what I feel here is that we often hear the argument that we can all do what we love. We should all try to do something we love, and we should all try to love what we do. But in many cases, perhaps most, the loss of the Agrarian ideal in this society, to the consumer ideal, means that most people will neither love what they do or do what they love. But that is not an argument to quit striving for it. Once we do that, all is really lost.

Indeed, one of the hopes that continues to exist for us is that people still vaguely feel that perhaps they ought to be doing something real, and that is something that has value.

farm mama said...

My mother is visiting (she lives in Wyoming where I grew up, and she and my father raised 8 children on a 100 acre farm) and we read your post and the discussion together. She and I agreed that conditions in Wyoming make it very difficult to survive on a small farm. The farm I grew up on was 100 acres, and my father always had to work an outside job for our family to survive. In contrast, my daughter & family just bought 12 acres about an hour from Charleston, SC. The property came with a house in good condition, some fenced pasture, a pond and lots of trees, and cost less than a below-average house and lot in the city. A huge advantage is that they have a built in market in Charleston that will allow them to sell just about anythiong they can produce. They already have people standing in line waiting for eggs, milk, cheese, vegetable, meat, honey. . . Their ultimate goal is to feed their family and sell enough to allow both of them to work part time, which they both want to do. Your location really does make a hugh difference.

Ethan Book said...

farm mama - Location, location, location ... I've heard that somewhere before. I do agree that it does matter to an extent. You can't do a lot of direct marketing if you are a long ways away from a larger population ... such as some places in the west. But, maybe it is possible to do something else? I'm not sure what, maybe seed stock for the cattle industry or a some speciality crop that works for the area that can be done mail order?

But, you are right it some areas more land might be needed in certain areas.

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