The other day my best friend and I were talking about some things, and she gave me one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. ‘Everything in your life, you put sweat equity into. Fitness, your house, your garden, even cooking almost everything from scratch. I’m not going to grow a tomato from seed, I’m going to buy it. But you, at your core, are about the time and effort you put into things, that’s what you value.”
There was more, of course, but it hit me square between the eyes, because it was so true – everything in my life is work, and that often feels overwhelming. But much of it is work I choose – I prefer the tomatoes I grow. I like the feeling of building, creating and improving. I don’t do everything myself, far from it, and I get lots of help. But at the end of the day, I choose to make muffins and cookies from scratch, I choose to grow food, raise chickens, run 10 miles in a single morning and so on. Yes, they are all work, and no, I don’t have to do any of them. The reality is that I like to do all of them. Maybe not all of them at once, which is what happens in the spring when it’s a mad rush to get the yard cleaned up, the garden ready, take care of baby animals and still be a mother and meet the demands of my career, not to mention the regular life stuff, such as grocery shopping, laundry, and dishes. And sleep?
To me, the effort I put into things is as important as the end result. I like to go out to eat, but the food I make at home is just as good, if not better in many cases. It’s gratifying to sit down to falafel or Pad Thai or even simple spaghetti and meatballs you have made yourself, and cooking is relaxing, once you start.
There’s lots of quotes about the journey vs. the destination one can throw out, but I found that learning to enjoy the process was not always simple. Some things, like cooking and weeding, I just enjoy. Others, like yard cleanup, spackling, or long runs, I merely tolerated – necessity, but not things to be enjoyed.
That is, until I started to realize just how good it felt to finish a project and realize I was the deciding factor in how well and how quickly it was done. There’s a zen in creating, and accomplishing, even when it’s not comfortable. A 10-mile run for me may never feel easy, but it always feels good, if that makes sense. The idea that you can choose what feels like work was fairly revolutionary for me, and was the difference between barely finishing a 5k and my first half marathon. If I can gift anything to my kids, it’s not to take as long to figure that out as I did.
No one has to choose to build a 48′ garden or spend their Sundays on long runs, and you definitely can buy great falafel, although if you want to try it, here’s an easy, delicious recipe. Most of us have to balance whether we want to spend time or money on something, and I won’t lie that I frequently come down on the spend side. But most of the time it’s my time and effort, at least in part, that makes my life what it is.
But. It’s also exhausting at times. I’m not going to lie to you.
When I recently took almost 5 months off from work, unpaid, supplemented with a bit of consulting work on the side, a lot of people were surprised. I was too. After years and years of juggling parenthood and a demanding career, travel, not the glamorous kind, the kind where you get home at 2 am and are up at 5:45 again to make the kids breakfast, an old house, a huge yard and lots of moves, and I was just….done. I had Leaned In with dedication. But I was tired I would sometimes walk around the house on weekends, going in and out of rooms and not know what to do.
Done enough to take savings and investments and an exit package and walk away, without certainty about what would happen next.
And here’s what did happen: I slept. I did house projects. I spent time with friends and family. I made my kids blueberry muffins in the morning instead of Rice Krispies. I went to yoga when I normally would have been in meetings. I trained for a road race. I started seedlings.
Sometimes I did…absolutely nothing worth mentioning.
I’m the better for it. I don’t think everyone should quit their jobs, of course not. And I still think that lots of things are better if I put effort into them, most things. I would always rather make things from scratch. And eventually of course, it was time to pick up the strings of my career and go back to work. And what do you know, I was energized and motivated in a way that I haven’t been in years, and it was noticed.
I regret nothing. Not a dime of income lost. Not a meeting missed. Not that I didn’t get the kitchen painted. And now it’s spring again – busy season here at my tiny little farmlet, and maybe I have even more to do than ever before. But never again will I sign up for a life where I can’t take a random Monday to paint pottery with my kids, or where I miss our baby ducks first swim in the pond. The name of the game now is balance.