All in a day’s work
“Do you guys, like, work?”, the TV executive asks as she makes her notes. While I understand what she means by the question, it irritates me immensely. I try to be cognisant of how our life here differs from the “norm” and politely explain that we both work very hard, but that neither of us is currently earning a regular income. I can tell by her reaction that it isn’t the response she’s looking for.
I can understand how her thinking has evolved. We are conditioned this way from childhood. From the time we are small children we are asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Acceptable answers to this question include lawyer, doctor, teacher and a multitude of other professions. You would never be expected to answer that you wanted to be happy, to be loved, to be a good daughter, a loving wife, a responsible human who treats the earth and its inhabitants (human and non-human) with respect. That’s a hippy, airy-fairy answer. While these are all virtuous aspirations, they’re not going to pay the rent or put food on the table.
And of course it’s true – none of these things will, in their own right, pay the bills. My point is not that we don’t need to work but rather how we have come to be defined by it, and how the focus of our developmental years is on building towards a career rather than building towards a life.
For many years I followed the traditional path. I went to college and got a degree, then found a good job with good career prospects and slowly worked my way up the ladder. I worked hard and eventually earned a good salary. But it didn’t make me happy. I always approached my work with enthusiasm and always strived to do a good job. There were elements of my job that suited my personality and that I enjoyed doing. But if I’d won the lottery would I have gone in again the next day? Absolutely not. Did I think my work was making a difference in anyone’s life? Not really – if I hadn’t done it someone else would.
I began to feel like I was stuck in a work-sleep-work cycle, too tired after a day’s work to do anything of consequence and constantly living for the weekend. I wasn’t getting to spend much time with my husband, the person I loved most in the world. Travelling was confined to a few weeks per year and, given that we both had family living overseas, often confined to the same few locations. I felt like a hamster in a wheel and I didn’t like it. So I changed it.
Now, I have no job in the traditional sense. We moved to a country where the cost of living is much lower so that we could afford to buy a house with our savings and not be tied down to mortgage. Our other costs are pretty minimal – mainly heat, electricity, car and food. Our energies now going into keeping these costs as low as possible. We grow vegetables, we keep chickens, we make almost all our food from scratch. We mend clothes when they tear and repurpose them when they no longer suit our needs. We barter what we have with neighbours for milk, meat and other vegetables. We shop around for absolutely everything, ensuring we always get the best price. We work hard every day to maintain this simple life.
There are things we can no longer afford to do. We don’t take weekend breaks at nice hotels in the country, we don’t eat out in fancy restaurants, we don’t buy expensive ingredients or luxury skin care products. I can’t really say I miss any of these things. I live in a beautiful village surrounded by glorious countryside in a house that has been done up to my own specifications. Despite the lack of expensive ingredients the food we eat is on a par with many restaurants. We know exactly what’s in our food, which is a luxury of its own kind. I make wonderful skin care products from natural ingredients, tailored to our individual needs. It doesn’t really get any better.
We make money where we can. We spent a month working in Denmark last November. We sell eggs, we give massages, we do odd jobs here and there. Ultimately, we want to develop our own business – one that pays the bills but still allows us the freedom and energy to fully enjoy our lives. We have no idea when these precious lives might be snatched from us and I, for one, am working very hard to make hay while the sun shines.