If you look back to our first blog post, you’ll notice we posed a challenge for ourselves to see if we could live a “double life”: one foot in the rural farming world, one foot in the urban world of Portland (albeit a pretty small urban world). For the last two years, we wondered if we could juggle tending a small vegetable farm 30 minutes outside the city while also maintaining jobs and a social life downtown. Nobody stopped us, and we thought we were brilliant – cultivating a low-risk passion project while leaning on the service industry to keep up a steady cash flow. But alas…having your irons in too many fires leaves you running around like a…flustered blacksmith…
It’s been a hectic journey (as you may have gathered from the last couple posts, and the lack of posts since mid-summer). We decided sometime in July that we would inevitably need some serious R&R over the winter if we were to save our sanity, our willingness to work, and our relationship. But in order to take time off, it became clear we would need to stock-pile a lot of money in the meantime. So we started taking any odd job we could find, picking up extra shifts at the restaurants, working 7 days a week…and getting very little sleep. At the risk of boring you with tales all too familiar to anyone with a busy lifestyle, I’ll just say we’ve learned some very valuable lessons about balance, priorities, and rest since then...lessons we wish to share with you!
Sometimes we get caught up doing way too much; it’s the way of our world. We’re so focused on achieving and pleasing those around us that we don’t make time for ourselves. On top of that, I would say in this culture, we don’t VALUE rest or balance. We never learn how to do it! Few of us are taught to “zoom-out,” in the moment, and take stock of what’s working and what’s not in our lives. We continue to sprint until we hit a breaking point and have an emotional breakdown (or run away on a cross-country road-trip for three months).
I offer you the Hose Metaphor: Say your life energy is water rushing through a mainline hose. There are two factors at play when determining how forcefully and to how much land that water will flow.
First: The Source. Is the water source at the top of the line constantly being replenished? It may not need replenishing for a while, but eventually the source will dry up or provide very weak pressure. When the source water becomes low and you only replenish it with a small bucket, there may be increased water pressure for a short time, but it will inevitably run dry again. (For those not catching along, “replenishing” equates to rest, recovery, recuperation, relaxing, etc.)
Second: Connecting Hoses. How many smaller hoses is the mainline feeding? The more hoses are added, the less water pressure flows through each hose. If too many hoses are added, water may not reach the end of some of them – there’s simply not enough pressure! (Hoses: commitments, responsibilities, projects, etc.)
The goal is to create balance between the rate at which the source water is being replenished and the number of connecting hoses so that there is adequate water coming out of each hose to ensure proper watering of the land.
Needless to say, 2017 for Small Feat Farm and its farmers consisted of minimal source replenishment and far too many hoses. And I have a suspicion we are not the only people who have found ourselves in such a predicament. A lot of people in our society tend to run on empty. As ambitious individuals, we over-commit ourselves and tend to view rest and self-care as signs of weakness…or we talk about them as guilty pleasures or things we do when we’re at the end of our rope. This kind of hose management can lead to exhaustion, stress (and subsequent health problems), lack of fulfillment, and isolation of the heart.
Personally, this “lack of fulfillment” feeling has been nagging at my brain. In the chase to achieve more and prove my worth to the world, I tend to say “yes” to too many commitments. But then, as water pressure continually decreases, I find that I’m not doing well (or "performing highly") in any of my commitments; things become half-assed because there’s not enough energy to go around. And I end up disappointed in myself and believing the world is disappointed in me because I have nothing to show for how exhausted I feel. Every area of my life in 2017 was being half-assed: the farm, work, home-life, my partnership, my friendships. And on top of this, I wasn’t making enough time to replenish my energy. And that’s okay… we all find ourselves in this situation from time to time.
I’ve been paying special attention to the people I admire lately – how they live, how they prioritize, how they direct their energy. These are people in my personal life, as well as more famous people who I follow on social media. I’ve noticed a few common themes: 1. They have chosen a few areas of life to focus on and do not get caught up in adding more to their plate; 2. They have good boundaries and communicate them with the world (i.e. they value down-time and do not let anything get in the way of it); and 3. They are courageous in cultivating their passion and sharing it with the world. I’ve decided I want to emulate these priorities in my life so that the things I’m passionate about can have my full attention and energy, and hopefully have a greater impact on the world. No more half-assing as a product of over-exerting! Say it with me now!
I should mention the flip side to too many hoses and not enough water: an overabundance of source water and nowhere for it to go. Sometimes, especially in winter, there can be a lot of lying around, cooking big meals, and going on vacation. These are all wonderful things, but when they come in abundance and there is a lack of responsibilities (this is particularly true for those of us who live a seasonal life), there can be a sense of restlessness or anxiety.
This usually happens to me in February. I start to feel the life force bubble within me as I dream about getting back to work and being outside. At my worst, I turn this energy inward: “I’m lazy and worthless and have been achieving nothing!” I beat myself for taking it easy because I can feel the “water pressure” building within me and don’t know where to direct it. At my best, I put this time period in context of the year and see that winter allows for necessary R&R so I can sustain higher energy levels in the summer. Instead of turning the restlessness inward, I can choose to push it out by making plans for the coming year, working on creative projects, and giving loads of attention to my relationships/friendships/community. It's important to have at least some connecting hoses in order to give life's energy purpose and direction.
So in the ever-evolving story of our little farm, what’s the solution to greater fulfillment and more balance between hoses and source water for 2018? First thing’s first: consolidate those hoses! We bought an RV last year and will be inhabiting it on the farm come springtime. Since the farm is also a wedding venue, we plan to be more involved with weddings there – bartending and caretaking the property. While I’m sure a new living situation will bring its own host of challenges, we are excited for all our commitments to be in one place and centered around our passions: farming, community, and sustainability.
This past winter, we dove deep into some new spiritual practices and are eager to continue practicing in order to bring about more balance, mental clarity, and perspective while seeking a fulfilling life. These practices include daily meditation and stretching, honoring the four classical elements and astrological energies, and simply prioritizing time to read, write, and relax.
Choose your hoses wisely, dedicate time to check in with what’s working and what’s not, have the courage to DO something about what’s not working, and remember that constant replenishment (even in small doses) is necessary to maintain a fulfilling and passionate life.