At beginning of the pandemic, most of my colleagues and I were allowed to work from home for most of the month of April 2020. During that time, I also started a garden and downloaded Rilakumma Farm, in that order. I started the game because lockdown made Pokemon Go pretty pointless. I started the garden because—suddenly– I could!
It’s unbelievable, when you first start working from home, how the early morning and evening open up. Technically, my commute was only thirty-five minutes each way, but there are another two to three hours that can also be lost in the preparation for– and aftermath of—relocating oneself for half of your waking hours every day.
While I was working from home, I started seedlings, I started craft projects, I cleaned and organized long-neglected corners of my house—all while almost doubling my productivity. This was possible because all these little home projects could be done incrementally, in passing, a minute or two at a time, and my professional workload could be distributed over twelve hours instead of eight. The combination of working from home, tending my garden, and periodically logging in to harvest my digital crops all combined to create a rhythm that made my whole life seem like a farm.
I found this to be a useful perspective. The farmer does not work for the crop, the crop works for the farmer. That is to say, the farm is not the fields. The farm is the family, which is held by the house, which is held by the crop. If the crop stops holding the house, the family changes the crop.
Let’s say I am supporting my family by growing and selling strawberries. A few years go by, and I start losing money on strawberries. I do some research and decide to grow wheat.
What I do not do is dismantle the house to plant more strawberries, nor do I have to question my sanity when the strawberries try to tell me that I have a moral duty to continue growing strawberries, even to my family’s detriment. The strawberries do not lecture me about how growing strawberries is a noble calling, and that if strawberries’ value is not recognized, it’s because I haven’t been a good enough strawberry advocate.
I did get that lecture at my job, every time I asked for help. This is where the analogy should break down, because changing jobs is actually easier than changing crops. What got in my way was “vocational awe”. I did feel that public service was a noble calling, I did feel a duty to advocate for my profession’s continued support, and I was persuaded that this advocacy was urgent and critical enough to let my work encroach more and more into my personal life. I knew I could get higher yields from a receptionist crop than a public servant crop, but I was attached to the idea of myself as a public servant.
Your job exists solely to contribute to your quality of life. When you start sacrificing your quality of life to your job, it’s just like planting crops in your house. The crop isn’t worth growing if it takes the house.
This is even more visible when it comes to commuting. Your commute occupies several acres that should be reserved for your recreational use. Instead, they stand as a wasteland, sucked dry by the strawberries.
It’s also possible for your house to eat your crops. Look at those couples on House Hunters who insist on living “near the City Centre.” This is a case where the house is too big for the crop to support. You can have the house, but it’s all you can have. When the house exists to contain your life, but the money you need for enjoying your life is busy maintaining the house, you have to plant a better crop or a build a smaller house.
Finally, time plays a big role in farming. Most of the work is accomplished by time just passing. There is a stark line around what the farmer can control. You set things up for success to the best of your ability, maintain those parameters as needed, then go away to tend to something else. Outside of a crisis, it’s slow and steady, a marathon and not a sprint. You never go out there and “leave it all of the field” or “give 110%.”
For the strawberries, good enough is good enough: farmers know nature works just fine on her own if you get out of her way. “Good enough” just means getting out of nature’s way, even if “nature” is the office. If you’re not creating a bottleneck, delay, or liability– and you’re not preventing the organization from fulfilling its fiduciary duty– you should be able to count your strawberries as tended and go repair a fence until they need more water.
One thing the strawberries do not ask you to do is linger nearby singing lullabies while you wait, unlike my old boss. My colleagues and I were ordered to return to the building long before it was safe to do so. When questioned, the man who made this decision said “I’m old-fashioned, I like to see my employees in-person.” When we objected to having one man’s preferences prioritized over our lives, we were told it was about “striking the right balance.”
Ultimately, I separated from my job. It appears I am far from alone in this, as there has been a flurry of media attention around what they’re calling “the big quit.” There have been articles by Washington Post, CNBC, Slate, Deadline, Axios, Business Insider, Yahoo, and many more, as far back as April. Regardless of where we each ultimately find ourselves after this shakeup, we should remember all that we’ve learned. Next time I feel like my job wants too much, I will ask myself one question: “would a strawberry do this?”