What kind of work makes you come alive?


What a horrible, rotten, no good, very bad day! Endless arguments stretched out beyond the horizon, seemingly into infinity. It was the sort of day that causes a questioning of not only your parental abilities, but even the ground upon which you walk. What am I doing here on this planet? Can I do anything right?

Right when it was needed most, the simple solution flooded into my mind, like water flowing across a parched land.

By enticing my twins with the promise of two bucks each, I squeezed 90 minutes of extremely hard labor out of them — work so difficult that I wasn't sure they could do it — as we strained to build my new urban farm on borrowed land: Tiny Farm Duluth.

Together we wrestled huge rolls of sod, many of which weighed as much or more than my 10-year-old children, away from the tenth-of-an-acre garden space upon which they formerly took root.

It became evident that working together was the prudent strategy. Exhausting work also has a way of depleting energy reserves well beyond the point where any excess could be comfortably flared off in the form of pointless arguments.

The result was a complete turnaround in attitude. Our family achieved a near-idyllic state of being. We ended the day with a rare feeling of tremendous satisfaction and accomplishment. Additionally, an epic amount of stuff got done, more than twice what I could have completed on my own. It turns out that those kids can really work! They also really need it.

This strikes a familiar tone. Once upon a time I was in a cubicle doing work that did not suit me, and could not be seen or even effectively described to others. Increasingly unhappy, I found myself rotting away from the inside out, but lacked the courage to do anything about it. Then one day the cord was cut.

First, I wrote a book. As I delivered these bound words by bike throughout the city and beyond, I became obsessed with exploring the richness this community has to offer. I encountered artists, musicians and entrepreneurs. New friendships were forged.

This enabled me to see just how much more fulfilling and satisfying a locally-based life is and can be, but since this tends to mostly involve consumption, it wasn't quite enough.

I discovered that our work — what we produce of value for our neighbors — actually matters. Our work plugs us into a dynamic ecosystem called the economy.

Economic interactions, in both production and consumption, form the basis of a healthy community. It is the outsourcing of productivity to distant corporations, for the sake of efficiency, that has hollowed out formerly vibrant cities and towns from coast to coast.

Nutrient-dense, pesticide-free, fresh, local lettuce, carrots, beets and spinach have tremendous value. Not nearly as much, however, as the series of human interactions that spawned them in the first place and provide purpose and meaning for all the hard labor required to continue growing them.

What kind of work makes you come alive? Humbly, I suggest to you that this sort of labor, performed passionately and strenuously, just might be exactly what your immediate community needs. This kind of joyful work, some might even call it redemptive, is perhaps your greatest opportunity to help make this world a better place.

I invite you to follow me along this crazy journey at tinyfarmduluth.com, where you'll see this urban farm unfold through the inevitable school of hard knocks. Whether your preference is for vegetables, art or words, we've got you covered. The work of farming, or of producing anything else of value through your wits and creativity, is an art form worthy of thoughtful reflection.

Monthly Budgeteer columnist Eddy Gilmore is the author of “The Emancipation of a Buried Man.” Discover more at eddygilmore.com.