About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

"How can I justify my lifestyle?"

I made this comment in a conversation with EcoCatLady about why I feel a lot of pressure for the garden to produce food, and she pulled me up short:

OK... just playing devil's advocate here, but I personally think that no one should have to "justify" a lifestyle of "pottering* around the garden and playing in the kitchen." at least not in a moral or ethical sense.

This has prompted a great deal of thought on my part, and I've already attempted and deleted one post on the subject (I rambled on and didn't get anywhere). After sleeping on it, I think I've worked out what I meant by that comment, and why I was wrong.

Although at the time I wrote it I did indeed mean it in a moral sense, I don't think that's actually where the pressure (in me) is coming from. It matters to me a lot that the garden produces food, but why?

My last job was quite a high-status position, as was the one before that. People asked my opinion and listened to what I said, and whatever I may think about the system in which that status mattered, that was how it was. What I do for a living has always been a big part of my identity – my own image of who I am – so having status inevitably ended up being part of my self-image, too.

I was very happy to give that up in exchange for a better life, but when I take a long, hard look at myself, I realise that my sense of self-worth may have taken a bit of a battering. In place of that status, I feel the need to have something to show for what I've done. I've put a lot of work into the garden, and I want it to give me something back so I can say, Look what I've done! Look at all these veg - I did that!

Now, I'm well aware of the things that can go wrong in a garden, and allowing my sense of self-worth to depend on the vagaries of weather, slugs, caterpillars and tomato blight is obviously not a good idea. More to the point, focusing on outcomes is generally not a good way to engage with life. Learning from EcoCatLady's recent, inspirational blog post, if we spend all our time focusing on what we've done, we miss out on the experience of doing it in the first place (read her post - she says it better). By getting too hung up on what the garden produces, I'm in danger of forgetting that the point of this new life is that I get to spend my time doing gardening.

I need to learn to value the doing, and give less weight to what I can acheive.

... I'm trying to compose a suitable conclusion here, but struggling. I think this is because this issue is something I need to give a lot more thought to. Maybe I'll come back to it when I have something more to say.

---

* I looked it up and yes, puttering is American for pottering, or vice versa if you must ;-)

12 comments:

  1. Awww... thanks so much for all of the nice mentions. I'm glad I didn't piss you off with my comments, I was worried that I had.

    I TOTALLY understand where you're coming from with the status stuff because I have struggled mightily with it myself. In fact that's probably why your comment sent up a red flag for me.

    The job that I left was also relatively high status. And while I desperately wanted to leave and pursue a quieter life, I fear I was woefully unprepared for the existential crisis that it all provoked. The first 2 years after I quit I poured myself into my home business, and probably worked more hours than when I had my job!

    It's taken me years to realize that I am more than the sum total of my accomplishments. Some days it's still a struggle, but I truly believe that the answer lies in learning to accept myself as I am (lazy tendencies and all), rather than trying to mold myself into some idealized notion of who I think I should be.

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  2. Hi, I can't remember if I've introduced myself here or not! I initially found your blog via Louisa at The Really Good Life, but I've since ended up here again via other sites and a google search for rhubarb cordial; clearly meant to be!

    I work part time and spend the rest of the time attempting to potter around the kitchen and garden whilst being interrupted by my children who want to do the same thing! I'd like to potter full time, but that's not an option at the moment.

    I know that need to justify lifestyle choices! I am surrounded by women who either work in a high powered professional career or who flit between the gym and shopping. I guess I'm keen not to get classed with the latter group!

    When noting that my children's lunchboxes are almost entirely homemade/homegrown, mums from both sets will say 'Oh, you are good!' but in that way that seems to imply that I should get a life and either a job or a gym membership, depending on their perspective...

    What we do and the choices we make are the external indicators of what kind of person we are, so it's natural to want people to understand what you do and why.

    My part time job is fairly low down the hierarchy from my previous full time job, and in a different field. That took some adjusting to. It was what I wanted to do; it feels useful (see paragraph above!);I enjoy it and it fits in perfectly with my children at school. But there was still a nagging need to make sure 'people' realised this wasn't all I was capable of. Think I've got over it now!

    Interesting post, thanks.

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  3. Interesting post as ever! :-). My last job was relatively high-status too and yes, it is a jolt. Mine wasn't so much part of my self-image (because it was horrible, and I was very unhappy) but it is still an adjustment.

    I am trying to focus on processes and not outcomes, I am failing but building up a fine stock of knitted mittens. The knitted mittens of therapy.

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  4. I could have written this blog post. Or actually, in fact I have - I have a very similar nearly-finished post in my drafts folder.

    It wasn't until I quit my full time job to freelance (in 2006, when I was 26) that I realised how much of my identity was wrapped up in being a relatively successful professional.

    Nowadays, after dropping some of my freelance work, I aim to generate (freelance) income about half time and grow/make/cook etc the other half of the time - but I find it really, *really* hard to do my own thing during the working day/week, even though I'm only earning a part-time amount. Aside from the four hours I teach each week, no one is expecting anything from me at set times - it's completely my own work-ethic guilt that's keeping me at my desk.

    And similar to you Rachel, when I do get out into the garden, I worry about the observable output from all my time/work -- especially for the last few months where it's been a lot of work for little immediate/observable reward. I have to keep reminding myself that I'm still learning a lot of stuff at the moment and just because something hasn't resulted in 10kg of produce, it doesn't mean it's not been worthwhile in other ways.

    I'm trying to focus on the journey not the destination too - it's hard but I guess attaining that mindset is a journey in itself ;)

    I didn't have any conclusions either but I think we just have to keep trying and not beating ourselves up too much about things.

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  5. EcoCatLady, I can understand your worry, but no, not pissed off at all :-) This is such a huge adventure for me, it's really great to meet people who are on similar journeys and to talk about the emotional side, as well the practical things.

    Hazel, Hi - nice to meet you :-) I have to say, I'm very glad I don't have to engage with that social set these days. However nice people are as individuals, the constant clash of expectations can get wearing. People who live conventional lives often have trouble understanding those who don't. They just don't have a framework to make sense of it. It would be much easier for them if we fitted into their way of doing things. But you must resist the gym membership!

    Susie, I think I'm going to struggle with focusing on processes rather than outcomes, but I like the idea of therapeutic mittens.

    Louisa, I think a strong work ethic can be quite useful if you actually need to earn money freelance - maybe you just need to wear it down a little. I look forward to reading your version of this post.

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  6. I just want to chime in here to offer some support. There is nothing more rewarding, important and productive than growing and preparing food. After all, that is only what everyone else is doing even when they're going to the office! If we didn't work, we'd be foraging all day.

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  7. Thanks for your support, J.N. :-)
    I think my awareness of that importance may have got a bit too much for me, hence the anxiety about how much the garden will produce. I now need to master the trick of recognising that what I do is important, but not getting hung up on the outcomes.

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  8. And now I'm going to have to write about this issue as well! I don't have a "high status" position, but I do work in the non-profit field and have a serious messianic complex (yes, I am a jackass). I've gone through some pretty painful experiences, tying my value as a human being to my work, which is all about SAVING THE WORLD. For the love of god, could I be anymore dramatic?

    Anyhoo, it all changed for me when I was in this class that discussed feminine energy (I live in Southern California, it's how we roll) and the facilitator said, "What would your life look life if it was centered in well-being instead of achievement?" Bam. Everything changed. It was a concept I hadn't even considered previously.

    And now I will shut up before I end up turning this comment into my blog post.

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  9. Ive read your blog - I'm pretty sure you're not a jackass (and I thought that even before you posted a link to my site ;-)

    Well-being centred... hmm... that's a thought-provoking concept. I look forward to your post on this, and in the meantime I'll turn that thought over in my mind a bit.

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  10. Firstly I love this post because it provokes thought and secondly (and maybe because I want this to be true) it does seem quite natural to want an outcome and not just a process. It may be that satisfaction comes from maintaining a balance between the measurable (time, money, stuff made) outcomes and emotional reward. Further, an understanding that the measurable outcome is only one aspect of us (the metaphor of not putting all the eggs in one basket seems appropriate)could also be helpful.

    Finally I don't think that measurable outcomes such as stuff, time and money are all bad as striving for these things enables us to share and connect with others. We just need to make sure we are co-operative farmers :)

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  11. Hi Amanda,
    Thanks for your comment. I keep thinking about this question, and I think you're right - it's OK to care about outcomes. It's part of that essentially human process of planning for the future. Whether I enjoy digging the garden or not, the point of doing it is to get potatoes several months later. As you say, it's the balance that's important - not getting so hung up on outcomes that you fail to appreciate the process.

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  12. I know it's a long time afterwards (sorry - just read the post!) but if you remember one thing:
    Hard work often pays off after time, but laziness always pays off now.
    :-P

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