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HARD WORK. Effort. Physical labour. These words, and the connection between them in my mind, have affected the structure and path of my life. Not always I may say, in a positive way.

I spent the first two decades of my life on a farm. A farm teeming with livestock: horses, cattle, pigs, cats, chickens, and dogs. Both of my siblings had left by the time I was 10, and my memories of early life are that of helping my father with farm chores. Most farm chores were scary, many times including hard physical labour, things I was never trained to do, and dealing with unpredictable results.

I had to unload bales of hay before I was capable of lifting them. I would slide a bale across the hayrack and push it on the elevator. My father would be the one stacking the bales at the other end of the elevator, positioned at different spots in the barn depending on where we had room to stack the hay. A bale came off of the end of the elevator, smacked down hard on my father’s head, knocking his gold bridge out of his mouth. We spent the rest of the day digging a gigantic hole in the mow, under where the gold bridge should have landed, with my dad ranting and raving (yes, that would have been my definition of R & R as a child, ranting & raving), then announcing it was my fault he was hit on the head because I wasn’t paying attention. He felt that I should be able to send the hay bales up the elevator in such a way that they would not arrive when he was standing under the elevator, even though he was going there erratically, with no particular pattern. I now know that this would take a significant linear mathematical formula to solve, and even then there would be room for error.

I have always had a special bond with animals, and once I was taught to milk cows, it soon became my job. I milked with my brother for a year, and then I milked by myself twice a day. I would get up at 5:30 each morning, milk for several hours, go to school, come home and repeat. I loved cattle and knew that many of the other chores on the farm I would not like to do. Because I operated the whole show myself, I learned creative ways to solve problems. If I had to find my father to help me because a cow was not in a stanchion, I got kicked or was afraid of a cow, it would take at least an extra half hour to take all the milkers off, go get my father, deal with the issue and go on. I simply did not have the time to go for help, and also learned early on that when I brought my father in, the cows would get on edge and react even worse than before he was there. I now realize that this experience taught me to solve my own problems, rely on myself, and keep going no matter what else went on.

I milked every morning, regardless if I felt bad, it was a blizzard or the weather was 20 below. I always felt good when I got done milking in the morning, I had already completed a good days’ work and I used that time to organize my day in my head. My parents gave me a certain amount of respect for working so hard each day and trusted me to go out for a social life when I worked hard and still received good grades. Education always came easy for me, and in those days I completed my homework during classes so that I did not have to take any home.

I learned to walk among these one-ton animals called milk cows, how to put my hand on their back when I changed a milker so that they did not startle, how to approach from the right angle that I could not get kicked. Even though these were extremely large animals, I came to a place where I had absolutely no fear of working with them. I was happy milking, joyous even, and something grounded me when I was busy in the milking parlour.

When I graduated from college, I did not get an opportunity to work for a corporation immediately. I spent the summer after graduation working on the farm, milking cows, painting buildings, and baling hay. My mother pulled me aside and admonished me: “you like it here too much. You are smart, and you do not need to do physical labour. You can always come back. You will regret it if you do not at least try to be in the intellectual world.” (This was the same mother who told me I needed to give up the art nonsense and get a real job at the time of my graduation, but I digress).

I obtained a Masters of Animal Science in Tucson, paying for it myself with an assistantship allotment and a job as a waitress that morphed into bartending. It was the first major time I went against my father, and again I received the cold shoulder. However, I saw more than that this time: that he needed me to depend on him for financial security, and now that I didn’t he was worried that I would still include him in my life. Bartending and waitressing was great for me, it was physical labour, and I would come home at night with throbbing feet from standing in one place for four hours straight, feeling I had really accomplished something. Even my assistantship was physically demanding: I had to wait for a Holstein calf to be born, then load the calf by myself in the university truck, drive it across town to the research study’s pens, weigh the calf, take blood samples and feed it. A newborn calf is wet, with all slippery legs, body, tongue and after birth, and like trying to get 100 pounds of Jell-O to stand up by itself. I would get one end on the truck tailgate, only to have the other slide off and hit the ground. I congratulated myself when I’d weigh the calf and it would be over 100 pounds, even up to 120. Looking back, it is amazing I could lift those calves. However, I knew I had to, and there was no one to go to for help. Working with cattle became a rich source of problem-solving, one that came in handy in my sales career.

Another part of that research position was spending the day in the lab, measuring the immunoglobulin levels in the calves blood, and protein urea in the urine. I HATED the preciseness of that chore, and more than once I spent the entire day and $300 worth of test materials only to have the controls not be accurate and have to throw out the results. I had to go to another lab in the biosciences building to complete my work, a lab in which I was the only student and the only non-professional researcher. I would come home & throw my clothes against the wall, my roommate asking “have you spent another day in the lab today?” She could always tell. I began to take seriously the people who told me I wasn’t cut out for a research job, that it was the equivalent of being locked in a closet and having money thrown at you once in and while.

Graduating with my masters, I was hired by a pharmaceutical company to do sales to physicians. Though my Masters was in Animal Science, I had realized that my degree crossed referenced and that the medical field was far more open to women than agriculture was. My so-called “dream job”: that of teaching as an Animal Science professor, was so limiting, that if I was offered a job, I would have to take it, even if it was in back roads Alaska because there were so few positions. I had interviewed with many agricultural companies as an undergraduate, felt the sting of being female in a male-only profession. Women were hired if an agricultural corporation absolutely had to because of quota rules, and then they had not been the best candidates, only warm bodies, without the education, drive or experience to make it work. I was also a quota hire with my first two pharmaceutical positions. The company had to have three out of ten positions filled with women. I fully believe in equal opportunity hiring and know that I would not have been giving the chance to prove myself had that law been in place.

In pharmaceuticals, I came unglued slowly and sometimes immediately during planning meetings. It drove me nuts to just sit around talking, talking, practising, and not DOING anything. It was a gigantic waste of time. I felt like an impostor, making good money for just sitting there when I knew there were people working hard for their money (by working hard, I mean lifting hay bales, cleaning buildings, you know, physical labour).

The reason I am giving you the quick thumbnail sketch of my employment history is that I now work for myself. Boundaries I had put on work for another have blurred and melted away, like the shamrock they put on the intersections at St. Pat’s day, which is gone in the next rain. I have worked out of my house all of my professional careers, mainly in outside sales. In those positions, I had to work my own hours, and always had a long list of projects to do, a schedule of clients to see, projects for each product and account. Yet I knew enough to put it down after a full day’s work, and relax. Now, I answer calls from clients all hours of the day and stay up late into the night making artwork. I have work stuff in every room of the house, large piles of projects and calls to make. I am so burnt out on pushing so hard for so many years; something in my brain shuts off when I start thinking about making plans and lists.

It has been evident to me for some time that I need to write a book about the information I receive from animals & spirit. However, a full day sitting down at writing makes me feel like I have done nothing all day: I have nothing to show for it but more words in the little box I call my computer. I have realized the fact that I do ceramics is not an accident. I LIKE to have produced a product at the end of the day: items that people take home with them and cherish. Jewellery too consists of physical objects, proof that I have WORKED, and just the fact that it is a physical product means to me that I have done physical labour.

I have received the message from my guides that I need to make the leap from making a living from physical labour to making money from concepts, ideas, and lectures. After all, they tell me, the time for one on one teaching is soon coming to an end. By working one on one with people I can help one person at a time, whereas if I write about a subject, that writing can help several people, and keep on helping them thru out time.

I give you the example of Paul McCartney performing in Red Square Russia, singing “back in the USSR”. That was a song that he wrote in privacy, practised and launched into being with his fellow Beatles. The song went from that to thousands of Russians singing the song along with him, knowing every word although they may not know English, have never been in the same town as Paul McCartney, let alone talked to him. Yet he had written words that influenced their lives, that they carried around inside them with personal memories and events tied to those words.

The hard work and the clutter issue I have been dealing with are different aspects of the same issue. How do I define myself, what do I need? It seems I need physical work, things to keep my fear at bay. It is uncomfortable to not be getting a paycheck, working a “real” job, being part of a larger whole of corporate life. We are human BEINGS, not doings. We are not our production during the day. Being lazy, or being industrious does not guarantee us money, love or health.

The rule I was taught about working hard, physical labour, being a path to abundance, happiness and joy is not always (or is it ever?) true. What is true is that we must trust our hearts: that voice within us that speaks to us to write, to dance, and to take a nap, regardless of the monetary rewards. If we can do that we may experience a real miracle, that of following our hearts, our spirit’s yearning, and a whole different definition of hard work. Having the courage to listen to what is specific to your soul, “the different drummer” so to speak, is not comfortable. It is the “hard” part of taking the road not travelled by, the being lonely enough to have work of your own. It trusts that small voice inside and taking responsibility for the choices you are making, not turning your power over to someone to make your choices for you. I can tell you honestly, there are days I would feel more comfortable cleaning stalls, but I try to stay with it a few seconds more.

Looking at the richest people in America, and by richest, I am talking about monetary wealth, none of them is cleaning their own horse stalls. People that have a spiritual abundance may do so without lifting a finger. My cat Elvis is truly happy, and he does not do a bit of hard work the whole day. The standards for success my parents installed in me are simply not true. By saying that, it does not change the fact that “hard physical work” is my success default. Maybe I can achieve a compromise: writing every day and continuing to clean stalls & produce amazing ceramic artwork and jewellery.

Let me know: where do you stand on the gerbil wheel of hard labour and work?

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