Every now and then someone makes a remark or an observation about me that resonates. In fact, sometimes, there is such weight on the remark that it amplifies over time, down through the years.
Such was the case about thirty years ago. My aunt and uncle were visiting us in Oxford on an extended trip around the UK from Canada. My late aunt asked about my work, and what I actually did. At that time I was in transition, really trying to make sense of my working life, just about to leave full-time paid employment to go freelance as a business consultant.
“It sounds like you are a farmer,” she said.
It sounds like you are a farmer
My aunt went on to explain. She had grown up on the family farm in Lincolnshire. It was a mixed farm of livestock and arable farming. Each evening, my grandfather would decide what he, his family and his farmworkers would do the next day.
Depending on the season and the situation, decisions were sometimes easy. For example, if one of the cows looked like calving, it was obvious that the next few hours would revolve around the vet and his assessment. Likewise with harvest time, what he had to do was time-driven and weather-dependant.
Other times, though, the freedom he had meant that important priorities were less obvious. A fence needed mending. Should they see to it tomorrow, or leave it until later? If there were goats in the field, it was clearly urgent: goats escape or eat their way through any boundary if they can.
And it wasn’t just maintenance. Farm economies went through some radical changes in the mid-twentieth century with the coming and aftermath of the Second World War, where it became strategically vital that the nation was as near self-sufficient in food as possible. I wasn’t aware of it, but rationing was still in force in the UK when I was born.
So, my grandfather needed to scan the horizon to see how the longer-term prospects changed. It might mean a shift to another form of income. And income needed to be budgeted across the year. Farm work was more labour-intensive in that generation, with at least a handful of farmworkers employed and housed on every farm.
And here’s part of why this resonated with me: many of us are now shifting to a form of working where we need multiple revenue streams, and daily we are called to make choices about what we work on next.
At one level, my work seems far from farming. I’m a business coach and writer. Yet, my aunt was right: there are more similarities my work to being a farmer, as I lead myself through the myriad of daily choices in my work, than perhaps first meets the eye.
How about you?
We sow our own kind of seeds, we harvest, we buy stock, we take our produce to market, we learn the rhythms of our market seasons, but also we tune in to the times, when all may seem well now, but there are opportunities to be gained from moving into work areas unknown to our ancestors, and risks to staying with the current operations.
Maybe, in this sense, most of us are now more like farmers., what has come to be called portfolio workers.
What is a portfolio worker? Well, I will explore this further in a later article. For now, though, I need to work on something else on my farm…
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