As you may have noticed, we live an unconventional lifestyle.
We’ve been self-employed since 1993. We make wooden tankards for a living. We have a twenty-acre homestead. We work at home. The girls never attended school. In short, we do things our way.
We aren’t slaves to a clock by any stretch of the imagination. We do farm chores (feeding, watering, milking) more by the “clock” of daylight than anything else. We work when we need to get things done rather than by anyone else’s rules. We have times of rush and stress (especially during our busy season) but even then our hours are our own.
And it got me thinking – why do most people live their lives in conformity to the dictates of others? When you think about it, most people spend their time obeying others – namely, their bosses. When you work for someone, of course, that obedience is critical. Maybe this is why we like being self-employed so much.
There are endless millions who spend their lives rushing and worrying, worrying and rushing. They have numerous commitments and obligations, many responsibilities and duties. They have no leisure, or if they do, their leisure is structured and brief. They tour Europe in two weeks. (“Quick, see London! March! Now quick, see Paris! March!”) Ambition is crucial and down time is a waste.
It’s easy to pass this on to children as well. School is demanding, homework takes hours every night, free time is structured into extracurricular activities such as sports, music, or other worthy pursuits. Idle time is a waste and actively discouraged since it doesn’t produce anything “useful.”
When I worked in the corporate world, this mentality was par for the course. Everyone was like that. We commuted, we worked, we commuted again, we did more work at home. Weekends were for catching up on whatever neglected chores or social obligations were necessary before Monday rolled around again and it was back to the grindstone.
While there has always been a segment of the population following this lifestyle, it became much more widespread after World War II. People were expected to follow a prescribed path: Finish high school, get a further education (college, trade school, or on-the-job training), work for forty years while raising a family, retire. You toed the line. You obeyed the rules. You earned the respect of your neighbors by toeing the line and obeying the rules.
I’m not just talking about work. There are many things which are dictated by others. How many people conform their standards of fashion, homes, even morals to the standards of society?
So I guess it was understandable when the 60s counter-culture hit like a ton of bricks and an entire generation of young people decided they would no longer toe the line or obey the rules.
We aren’t hippies by any stretch of the imagination, but I understand their frustration with “normal” rules, behaviors, fashions, and other diktats. When we stepped off this conveyer belt in 1993 and moved to Oregon, we didn’t really think about the repercussions of dropping out of the corporate mentality. But really, not being in the formal workforce has affected our entire lifestyle and attitudes in ways we didn’t anticipate. For one thing, it made us almost immune to the notion of “status.”
I mean after all, who stipulated it was necessary to spend eight hours a day locked in a building with a bunch of strangers in order to obtain a paycheck twice a month?
Who decided it was necessary to own a certain type of home and furnish it in approved ways? Who decided what kind of vehicle it was necessary to own? Who decided how it was necessary to raise children? Why MUST we do these things?
Do you see my point? Those of us who don’t conform to the “normal” ways of living and raising children are considered... well, unconventional.
I like being unconventional. I like not having to keep up with the Joneses. I like not being a slave to status symbols (home, car, career) in order to impress people I don’t know.
We’ve been accused of a number of things over the years. We’ve been told we’re wasting our lives, that we lack ambition or goals, and that it’s criminal we’re passing on such traits to our children. But is this lack of “ambition” as defined by the clock-watchers really such a bad thing?
The truth is, we DO have ambitions and goals, but they’re just not in keeping with the things corporate America values. We have ambitions of expanding the garden next spring and goals of installing a wood cookstove in the next few weeks. We have ambitions of improving the barn’s infrastructure and goals to someday put hardwood flooring in the house. We have ambitions to become as self-sufficient as possible on our homestead. We have goals of launching two well-rounded, sensible, moral young women into the world.
In short, we may lead a life that is quiet and unassuming and “unambitious” and even “wasteful” to the unpracticed eye, but the truth is we’re stable, content, and happy. And aren't these the goals and ambitions of many millions of people – to be stable, content, and happy? We just achieved these things in unorthodox ways.
After all, why be normal?