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The Other Side of Gainful Unemployment

The downsides of doing it all.
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busy hands by Lisa Clarke banner

Photo by Lisa Clarke

“Today, I will do one thing at a time.”

These are the words I’ve been saying to myself each morning lately as I leap from my bed. I mindlessly repeat them while working through when to teach homeschool lessons to my daughters, which emails I need to respond to, when I’m going to make soap, how much beeswax I need to rinse and render, when we’re going to photograph and upload our newest farm products to the online shopping cart, which websites need to be updated, whether I’m needed or not at the farm this day or this week, what spices I need to order for sausage making, whether I’ll find time this day to get the weeds out of the raspberries, if I’ve got enough change for this Saturday’s farmers’ market, when I’m going to get to the dairy farm up the road to pick up butter for making pate to sell, what needs to happen to complete the start up of our new yarn business, which essays and articles need to be written, how I’m going to steer my newest book into publication by September, which photographs still need to get taken for the insert, which presentations need to get written for the fall speaking season, whether or not the blueberry bushes need fertilizing, when I’m going to find the time to take the girls into the woods to gather ramps.

I sat down for the first time and wrote a list of each of our enterprises. We had 16 different ventures.

In short, as soon as I utter that morning promise, I begin the daily process of failing to honor it as I work myself into a frenzied whirlwind of activity. My life is unusual in that nearly every item on my to-do list is something that I love. But rather than being in-the-moment to enjoy these myriad pleasures, my brain rattles me into a frenzied state, where I am constantly distracted by what else I want to accomplish. Thus, even the act of perpetually doing things I love can leave me cranky, impatient, and difficult to be around.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Bob and I are creative people, unable to fathom a life where we would do one thing for a living. For the last decade, we have managed to carve out a livelihood for ourselves that matched our eclectic interests and our passion to produce beautiful things in harmony with the earth. We call it gainful unemployment. One of my most important contributions to this adventure has been my ability to perpetually come up with new ideas and business schemes, ensuring that the income stream for our radical homemaking household was always diversified, and thus more secure. For the sake of writing this piece this morning, I sat down for the first time and wrote a list of each of our enterprises. We had 16 different ventures.

That makes for a pretty respectable livelihood for two adults who have decided to stay home full-time with their kids. My trouble is that my most important gift in managing a life like this—my ability to envision and implement new ideas while juggling existing responsibilities—is also my greatest burden. I have a brain that doesn’t rest. I lead a life that honors the rhythms of Mother Nature, but the frenetic pace in my head impedes my soul from resonating with her vibrations.

I don’t believe I am alone in this quandary. Radical homemakers are scrappy survivors who employ their creativity and ability to learn new skills to build a life outside the destructive confines of the conventional ecologically and socially extractive economy. I’ve been in many radical homemaking households that look like mine—full of chaos, creativity, self-imposed deadlines and interesting business concepts. This is who we are, and we are part of the foundation of a new life-serving economy.

I am learning that I must trust that what is most important will get done, that being present and mindful will enable me to generate as much productivity as I need.

We are on the frontier of something that is totally new. We draw inspiration from pre-industrial households and early American agrarian traditions for our way of life, but we cannot ignore the fact that we must revive these traditions while living in an electronic age; where business, learning and creativity can happen 24-7. There is opportunity in this union. There is also the tremendous hazard that we could take ourselves to a breaking point.

How I negotiate this union is an important matter. Finding the balance is critical to my health and enjoyment of my life. More importantly, it is going to be the best selling point for my children to trust their own unique talents and skills to make a life that harmonizes with mind, body, soul and planet.

Right now, for me, this means starting each day with that simple goal: to do one thing at a time. That is very difficult for me. I am learning that I must trust that what is most important will get done, that being present and mindful will enable me to generate as much productivity as I need, without the added brain chaos of trying to do two, three, five, or more things at once.


Shannon HayesShannon Hayes wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Shannon is the author of Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, The Grassfed Gourmet and The Farmer and the Grill. She is the host of Grassfedcooking.com and RadicalHomemakers.com. Hayes works with her family on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in Upstate New York.

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