Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The upside to a down economy

I was reading a news article yesterday that Amish view the current economic downturn (CED) as a blessing. It's forcing them to return to their core values, making those who abandoned the farm for the factory and the town, who turned to a wage-dependent job instead of a family business, return to the Amish religious and family-centric life.

Sounds all good to me.

The Industrial Revolution was what broke up the family to begin with, Shanghaiing the majority of the United States' population from Walton Mountain with three generations living under one roof and paying with cash, to the fast life of the city that ultimately ended in a soulless existence living off credit and using either drugs or the television to numb the frayed nerve endings.

I read about another family that eliminated $106K in debt over five years. They racked up that kind of debt, not by fast living, but simply buying new: new cars and clothes. They didn't even own a home. I've never understood people who pay thirty grand for a car when you can buy something used and serviceable (that means a beat up old pickup) for ten grand. But that's still a lot of Gap sweaters and Abecrombie hoodies.

Long ago, my grand plan was to own a small farm--no more than 12 or 15 acres--and garden and raise one or two head of livestock that I could prod into the truck and take to the slaughter house for storage in my freezer. I wasn't a crazy Unabomber type. It was just a continuation of how I saw many of my relatives, who lived on farms in Indiana, live. You're hitting the jackpot when you live a life like, being close to nature and the seasons taps you into a spirituality you won't get in the grandest European cathedral. You're healthy, wealthy (with a good life) and wise from good, fresh, organic food, fresh air, and just the right amount of exercise. You go to bed with a clean conscious because you're tired and you know you've put in a honest day's work. Again, I wasn't talking about going off the grid. I was just thinking about simplifying.

Well, I don't have a farm, love living near the city because of all the intellectual pursuits it offers, but my (and Sue's) instincts to always simplify a bit more have served us well.

Since getting laid off back in December, I've fully realized that I'm happiest working at home, on my own, working with clients to promote their products that I can really believe in. I knew it, it just took another two years in a cube to really drive that idea home. Not that I wouldn't still take a staff job with a company. It would have to be the right one, with the right people, that's all. In the meantime, working at home has let me simplify, and live life more like I like to live it, even though I'm not living it on a farm.

Today is a good example. Right now I have projects with Saucony and MIT's Sloan School. I honestly believe that those two organizations make the world a better place--the Sloan School obviously through education, and Saucony by helping people stay healthy. It's a great day when you can get up in the morning and look forward to your work, because for the longest time I didn't.

Sue and I get some nice quality time together, even though both of us keep very busy. We got up. Sue jumped in the shower while I put the coffee to brewing. I was heading for our home office here later in the day, but because I wasn't racing to get to an office--grinding my teeth to either catch the T or leaving to sit in the parking lots that make up the highways and beltways that circle and crisscross Boston--Sue and I had time to talk and enter the day slowly.

Someone I know who is way up there in an ad agency described his job as trying to drink from a fire hose. Now he says he can't even do that. Our jobs are killing us--literally. The pressure and the anxiety that's out there is lethal. And what's funny is I have anxiety in my life, too. I worry about money, where the next paycheck, project, client is going to come from. It's not easy right now at all. But it's anxiety that I can handle because I feel in control of it. Most who have jobs right now don't feel that way, and they're going to need their paychecks to pay for their heart transplants.

I have a nurturing side. When my first-born came into the world, I wanted to stay home and take care of her, but I was the primary wager earner, which meant I was making a lot of money basically doing something I didn't want to do at a place where I didn't want to go. I finally landed a job where I could telecommute, was able to work and take care of now two kids, but the job was extraordinarily unrewarding, even worse, destructive. Living life in a way you're not meant to live it can not only destroy you, but damage the people around you.

I think this American life we fell into, where both parents go off to work because they "need" two or four big,expensive cars, a big-screen television with every premium package from the cable company, a huge house filled with every finest of everything sapped our souls and damaged our families and relationships beyond repair. I'm not saying live like the Amish. I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying we need to live more simply and pay attention to what's important to a healthy life, both spiritually and physically. And more than anything that means paying better attention to our loved ones, and reducing the amount of stress that's in our lives and giving back more time so we can do whatever it is we as individuals do to feel enjoyment in our lives.

So now that I'm home, I can take better care of Sue and myself. This morning I made pancakes, and at the same time made a batch of granola. Towards noon, I took a break and went grocery shopping, came home, put together a batch of chicken soup that I can now smell simmering, and threw ingredients in the bread machine for fresh, healthy bread. Sue's got a crazy job, but it gives me a little bit of solace that I stay at home if I can work to make her life a little easier or more pleasant. And that makes me happy.


The Witty Fool said...

There is something profound about getting back to the earth and letting it exhaust your limbs with a day's work. A connection with nature and weather and the sky that we have let slip off our radar.

BUT, while I think there is a simplicity to the life we left behind in them olden days, we also shucked off some of the ignorance... well some of us did. I dread to think that a return to a more traditional way of living would return our minds to the intolerance and 'morality' of what we were before the Industrial Revolution.

Action Bob Markle said...

witty fool...no, i hope we don't throw out the baby with the bathwater, as it's said...the greed and the rampant consumerism has got to go...it's just too destructive to the planet and to the soul...

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