When I first conceived of the topic of my family’s core values (see Homestead Core Values) I created a short list after very little thought. Second place after frugality (see Homestead Core Values: Frugality) on which I obviously had much to say, came hard work.
Obviously, living as we do requires a great deal of work. I won’t catalog all that we do here—this whole blog provides that laundry list (as it were). Instead, I want to talk about the ethics or values behind that work.
Idealogically, I have long rejected the Protestant Work Ethic in which I was raised. Even as I worked hard as a member of my family, and on my own account at odd jobs while in school, I resented the idea that The Virtuous work because they are virtuous. As with many religiously inspired strictures on human conduct, the fact that they exist assumes that without them, people would stray or fall short. While few would say “no” to a life of complete leisure, it seems pretty obvious that getting what one wants out of life requires hard work. Do we really need to impose rules to enforce that?
Many people assume that in moving to the homestead we dropped out of the rat race because we “couldn’t hack” the working world. We commonly get categorized, if not dismissed, as “drop outs,” “deadbeats,” or “lazy.”
Our rejection of the “normal” working world has more to do with growing disillusioned with the way we are “supposed” to live in this society. In many ways, Michelle’s and my strong work ethic led us to pursuing our lifestyle.
By our middle 40s, we both found ourselves burning out. We realized that our work ethic made us faithful employees to any employer, good or bad. Even as we became frustrated if we discovered that the boss or business we served wasn’t worthy of that kind of dedication, we couldn’t slack off. It wasn’t in our nature, so we suffered, still providing excellent service for meager pay and poor working conditions. We discovered, as many working Americans have, that few employers reward such faithful service in meaningful ways. I actually worked for at more than one criminal, doing my utmost to make their business successful, even as they undermined my efforts by their thoughtless, illegal activity.
At the same time, I found the work/home dichotomy unfulfilling. I’ve long spoken of my need to break free of the usual pattern that demands a parent spend time away from the family in order to support them. I realized we could change this pattern by moving to the homestead —but only if we worked very hard at it!
If you’ve read my book, Sacred Coffee: A “Homesteader’s” Paradigm, you’re already familiar with my thoughts on working for one’s family. Rather than working for someone else, we work for our family. We choose our own tasks, set our own schedules, or none at all, move from task to task, take our breaks, decide our own speed, all without supervision (see “Hunker Down” Days).
In fact, we threw ourselves into the work of the homestead a little too much. When my sister, Beth observed our new lifestyle on her first visit here, she warned us to remember to rest at least one day a week. She encouraged us to observe a “Sabbath” so that the operations of the homestead wouldn’t completely take over our lives. That admonition opened our eyes, forcing us to realize that our work ethic could continue to degrade our quality of life, even after we thought we’d escaped it.
I’ll talk a little bit more about that in an upcoming post.