Living Like a Farmer
The other day I was doing a bit of reflecting on my life and work, and I wasn't entirely happy with what I saw.
I don't know about you, but I often find that the daily demands and patterns of life can have an almost hypnotizing effect on me so that I'm no longer moving toward the things I want in my life. Instead I'm just existing, or surviving, or going through a daily routine without a lot of thought or intention. This summer has been full of the kinds of life events that lull you into a lockstep pattern - lots to do, a shift to taking care of the urgent things that scream for attention with little thought about what's most important, and lots of little crises and distractions.
When I became aware of this pattern it disturbed me. I felt uneasy and a bit panicked by the thought that I might stay in it so long that I might not accomplish and attain the things I'd really like to have to in my life - the things that I think of as making my life significant. That's something I'll write about later. For now, let's just say that in my discomfort I began thinking about a different way to live.
Ironically, I found myself thinking about my grandfather, who I called "Daddy Jim". (Yes, I was named for him.) My grandfather worked a variety of jobs in his career but became a farmer after he retired. Together with my grandmother, "Margie", he raised horses, cattle, a few goats, and had a large garden on 16 acres. Taking care of even this modest farm required them to live a lifestyle that Stephen Covey described as "beginning with the end in mind" in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; because, if they were to attain the goals they had for their farm - healthy livestock that could win contests and sell for a profit, and enough vegetables to feed them throughout the year, then they had to live a lifestyle that supported those goals.
My childhood memories are chocked-full with the daily pattern of Daddy Jim's life on the farm. Each day he rose by 5 a.m. to put horses and cattle out to pasture, feed and water the livestock, and generally make sure things were set for the day. After that, he'd return to the house for breakfast, then set about doing the remaining chores and the maintenance work and new work the farm required. He'd work until lunch time, come in to eat, then take an afternoon nap during the heat of the day. After that he'd return to the work or run errands in town, come in for supper, then go out to bring horses into the barn and cattle into their pen for the night. After his evening bath (Daddy Jim had polio as a child and didn't trust himself to stand in a shower), he's dress in his pajamas and watch a bit of TV with my grandmother before heading to bed about 9 or 9:30. The next day he would repeat the whole schedule, with the exception of Sundays when he'd take a break from everything except livestock care.
As I thought about Daddy Jim's daily life pattern, I was struck by the intentionality of it. Everything about his life was focused on an end goal, especially the repetitive stuff of his days that I always thought were dreary and mundane. It had a seamless, unified quality that felt purposeful and guided, and I began thinking that it might be good to live my life like a farmer.
I asked myself, "What are the fruits or end results that I'm hoping to attain at the end of the week or the month or the year, or my lifetime?" I thought about my personal life and aspirations, and the goals I have for my relationships, and my physical and spiritual health. I thought about my work and outcomes I want for my clients and dreams I have for impacting more people with a message about "living the life of significance you were made for". And, I thought about the things I was going to have to do intentionally if any of this was going to become real.
Then I thought about my daily routine - from simple things like getting enough sleep and eating right, to complicated stuff like building practices of quality time spent with family and friends, and writing and knowledge-building to grow my ability to do my work. I looked at how much time was allotted to each of these things and where I need to build them into my days and weeks. And then I slowly started building these things into my life.
So far, I've been pretty good about getting up early enough to get in a good breakfast and some time for my spiritual health before I turn to my work. I'm half-decent about getting some exercise and getting myself in bed, though that may simply be that I'm 56 and the exercise makes me tire-out earlier. I'm still working on some of the other things - reading more, less TV or movies, where and how to get in some things, and making time for my priority relationships - but they're coming along. Some of the BIG ideas and goals are still in-process too, but I realize those are as much about inspiration as they about planning.
I think I might like it if somewhere down the line people call me "Farmer Jim". (I already have a pair of overalls and boots I'd like to wear more often.) But more than that, I'd really like it if my life was producing the things that a farmer's lifestyle can lead to - things that will only happen if I live like a farmer.