In The Beginning

Maybe it’s just the time of year. Or maybe it’s the fact that it’s a rainy (nearly) fall day and I have spent the last week poring over graph paper, trying to design the future landscape of our back yard. There are many oscillating tendencies I have displayed throughout my life. Perhaps the most influential, is the fluctuating draw between doing a job society tells me I should do, and completing work I feel called to perform.

It is, I think, a clear demonstration of the need for balance that we all feel. I am so fortunate to work for a prestigious institution that produces some of the top minds in the STEM workforce. (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) I absolutely love what I do, the people I meet, the projects I get to see and the innovation I’m lucky enough to witness. At the end of the day, though, it isn’t about how much my coworkers like me, or whether or not my constituents trust me enough to accept proposals to support their alma mater. I do my job, but I get to keep it because it is ultimately about production.

Every job I have ever had, in one way or another, has been measured on production. One could argue that indeed every job is reliant on a growing number on the bottom line. How many checking accounts can you open? How many sick pets can you heal? How many bushels of soy beans can you sell? How many yards can you landscape? There are some lines of employment that can be considered non-production related, but even the cashier at the gas station has to produce a smile that will make a customer want to stop there again.

For work that involves production goals, there is no end. When we cross the finish line at the end of the fiscal year we may get a short burst of dopamine resulting in a temporary sense of satisfaction. But that reward dwindles when, not only is a new production goal set forth, but the goal line is moved fifty yards further away. Or, when a teacher watches students they have cultivated graduate, only to turn around and see the next line forming outside the classroom. There is reward, there is purpose, but no one can stand the cycle forever.

This idea of production is only an illusion created to supply a false need for economic growth that is unsustainable. In the beginning, it wasn’t about production requirements. It was about survival. If we are to speak “scientifically,” it was about propagating the species, which, frankly, seems just as mundane as an annual budget meeting to forecast profits. It’s as depressing as the observation that according to one theory, the universe will eventually only consist of black holes pulling toward one big central black hole, collapsing in on itself so the cycle can begin anew.

 

Cartoon from XKCD

Those overwhelming moments of realization, for me, are the moments I seek out some kind of distraction. A building project, a garden layout, a new book series. It is an inherent call to feel something different. On both an emotional and physical level. Anything other than what can only become mundane on a long enough timeline. Lately that call has manifested itself in a need to put my hands in the dirt.

Some spiritualists will say that want to work in soil and plants is nature’s way of telling you it’s time to get grounded. To literally put your feet in the earth, collect silt underneath your fingernails and reconnect with the only true, tangible reality there is. (It’s still just a hologram but that’s for a different day.) Psychiatrists would probably deny the spiritual aspect, but identify the want as a subconscious method of seeking a creative outlet. Personally, I don’t see why both can’t be true. It all points back to my earlier statement regarding the pursuit of balance.

Despite what some argue is a very easy thing to do, most of us cannot simply drop what we’re doing to go live in the woods off food that grocery stores have pitched into dumpsters. While drawing attention to the amount of waste generated by society is an important cause, choosing to live on a dumpster diet still relies on a society that is overproducing and wasteful. And until the world evolves into a global society that no longer relies on monetary gain as a sign of social status, we’re going to continue to overproduce goods that no one really needs.

So enters the realm of hobbies. I find it fascinating that trades which were once considered necessary are now categorized as leisure activity. Sewing, for example, is not a skill many possess any longer. If you see someone sewing, or knitting, it is likely their hobby, not their primary source of income. We adopt things to do outside of work to keep our minds and our hands busy. Because when we leave our desks, or cash registers or work trucks behind, we need something to go home to that doesn’t feel like work. We need to feel connected, to something, that gives us more of a sense of purpose, rather than being painted as just another drone.

As I stated, for me, that connection comes from burying my hands wrist-deep in dirt. I can’t say enough about the satisfaction a garden brings. The peace of mind I get from the stains on my jeans because I’ve been tilling the soil with my bare hands. The sense of accomplishment that comes from seeing fruits and vegetables blossom and grow is better than coming home to a surprise gift on the front porch. I’m getting lost in the imagining of next spring as I write.

Here we circle back around to the problem of balance. It would be terribly easy for me to walk out of my office, drive home, break out a shovel and start digging the new garden I want to plant. But that would look terrible to my employers and be irresponsible. Sadly, gardening at home doesn’t “pay the bills.” So I’ll swivel my chair around and get back to planning my next few months of travel.

In the beginning, or so it seems, it wasn’t like this. We didn’t need to seek balance because we lived it, with purpose. I like to think one day it will be like that again.

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