Each Winter, we commit to taking on less than the year before come Spring. We reflect on how it would be nice to take things a bit easier with large scale projects so that we can slow down the pace, focus on getting our gardens established and begin to tackle the mountain of maintenance jobs that seem to pile up over the Winter. We talk about what success would mean for us during the coming season. This year, just like every other year, we overcommitted. This spring included: planting the most ambitious garden plots to date (including a currant and blueberry patch!), planting 1200 hazelnut trees, the purchase of two peahens, 40 new ducklings, a new livestock guardian dog, the introduction of 7 bottle-fed lambs to train the dog and the subsequent establishment of the electric fencing to pasture the sheep using rotational grazing methods. Definitely not the low-key Spring we had envisioned.
What we are getting better at is rolling with the crazy. We’ve been through enough wild Spring-times (and wild times in general) to recognize when we’re in overdrive. This year we have been the most successful yet at being able to set some boundaries about what other commitments would have to wait in order to get through all of what we deemed ‘necessary.’
This Spring, we kept a close eye on the ‘should’ list. By this I mean all of the things we think we ‘should’ do to keep up the facade that we’ve got it all together and can somehow miraculously do it all! We’ve had to do this in previous years, but this time around it was easier. We dug in hard to what needed to get done, prioritizing our time and tasks each day based on what provided the most value for our efforts. This included making some difficult decisions about letting some things slide in order to make some magical things happen on our farm. We are pretty sure that in 10 years we won’t remember how long the grass was (which was also compounded by a broken lawnmower), but we will remember and enjoy the hazelnut trees that will be providing nuts for our family, and hopefully providing surplus to sell.
Knowing how to identify which efforts will bear the most fruit is where the ‘unlearning’ really is. In the past, I have found it very difficult to discern which items on the ‘to do’ list are there because I need them to happen, and which are there for the impression of our lives that I want to uphold for the world. The more I can pull apart the motivations behind the things I feel I ‘should’ do, the clearer I get about how to spend my time.
What I’ve been finding (and uncomfortably so) is that many of the things we spend our time on do not actually serve us. When we step back and look at the larger picture and how to prioritize our efforts, how can mowing the lawn be a priority in the face of the change required to live sustainably on this planet? The exertion required to ‘do it all’ is unsustainable in itself – let alone the many actions we take to uphold the illusion of having everything under control. So the question for me becomes, how do we step outside of this cycle? What if winning at life meant showing up for what you believe in and doing the work rather than expending energy on what you look like during the race?
A friend of mine with small children recently said to me that she was frustrated with living in mess. She followed that with their new family motto; ‘we can have it all, we just can’t have it all at once.’ This little mantra gets to my point. I think that the illusions we work so hard to maintain are damaging us; as individuals who are scared to appear as unworthy, our children who watch us struggle to press into exterior measures of success, and our communities which become disjointed in an effort to impress and outperform each other rather than foster support and understanding. We are spending more time on cyclical fruitless tasks than on the things which can actually create and maintain the changes we are desperately seeking in our world.
When we try to have a clean kitchen and a mowed lawn and happy, smart, kind kids and vacuumed floors and great fashion, and a nice looking clean car, and…and…and, there just isn’t enough time to rest. And to most, this may not seem like a problem…who needs rest? I am going to go out on a limb and argue that we all do. Rest is the soil in which we grow our creativity. We are so starved for rest, we don’t really even know what it looks like! We have become so externally focussed that we have lost sight of how we look to ourselves.
What will the neighbours think? The neighbours may think a lot of things, but unless we choose to buy into their thoughts (or more aptly our projection of what we think their thoughts might be) they are meaningless and serve very little function. What do you really gain from impressing neighbours? What is the net gain for your effort? How is this transaction changing the world for the better? The truth is, when we become consumed with what others think, or even with maintaining the status quo, we cut ourselves off from creativity and the opportunity for freedom.
It is so hard to admit how we chain ourselves with ‘shoulds’ that only serve to keep us living small. Sometimes it is the smallest misshapen fruit which bears the most seeds. Let us be open to the imperfection that life offers, for this is diversity, this is where we meet our edge, this is where growth is most possible. Culture at large values the things that can be seen from the outside – perhaps because they can be measured and judged (something we’ve become great at doing!). It is so easy to feel that we have to uphold the same image as everyone else, because who really wants to be the outsider? We’ve been conditioned so well to stay inside the lines. But what if being on the outside is actually what is needed? What if the outsiders are the ones who can get us out of this mess we’re in?
When will it be alright for you to sit and enjoy a cup of tea before cleaning the kitchen? When you decide it is. For us, there are more important things in life than appearing as the perfect family. We’re not. We don’t try to be. We are committed to our values and making sure everything we do is prioritized around them – which is no small feat! But more than trying to hold true to what we consider to be sacred, we are learning how to enjoy the journey – no matter how bumpy, rocky, or muddy the path is. Success is not an external thing and cannot actually be defined by anyone else for us. We each have the opportunity to define what success looks like for us. So, blaze your own path and have the courage to get messy in the process.