Productivity, Productivity, Productivity

The Culture That’s Killing Us

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Photo Credit: Amberleigh Storms

My husband and I are old school. When we began dating it was exactly that, dating. We’d go out once or twice a week. We did this for a year before we kicked it up a notch and started seeing each other more often, spending nights at one another’s houses and spending time with each other’s families.

Once we were engaged we devised a plan. We’re an older couple and neither of us had been married before. We lived in Phoenix. We decided to sell his house, live in mine and purchase another home in Iowa 20 miles east of the farm he grew up on where his parents still live today. At the time, we knew we would eventually make the move from the city to farming territory. We just didn’t know when.

Although we had been dating for almost three years there was still so much to learn about one another, the type of stuff you never know until you live together. For instance, I had no idea he would wake me up at 6:00 AM on Saturday mornings to do what he refers to as, “Check marks.” Are you kidding me?

We both worked life sucking jobs. He worked for a major corporation where after 20 years of working there his four- ten hour shifts were still really five- twelve hour shifts with no paid overtime. I worked crisis intervention for a non-profit and was on call 24/7 Monday through Friday, and I was called almost every night.

The first Saturday morning he woke me I was sluggish and grumpy but I tore myself out of bed and got ready to take on the day.

“I’ll have another cup of coffee, please,” I remember saying, “and another, and another.”

This went on for the next few Saturdays. This went on until I finally said, “I exhaust myself all week getting check marks. I don’t need anymore check marks. I need sleep.” Stop waking me up, damn it.

I grew up in the city whereas he grew up on a farm. Our cultures are entirely different.

City life is a hustle. Its pulse is fueled by chaos and cash. Working is for time off and money is for social status. The more productive you are while you’re working, the better the job you have, the fatter the paycheck. It’s another step up the social ladder.

Farming is for livelihood. You work from sun up until sun down and if you have a good year you may find yourself with a bit of profit and at the end of each harvest season you’re a bit more worn down than the last.

My husband wakes up early on Saturdays because it’s in his blood. There is no time for rest. He’s weighed heavy with guilt by the concept of relaxing. His self esteem, his self worth is based on his productivity, compensated or not.

I’m all about relaxing. I did what was expected of me. Why do I need to do more? Relaxing is my compensation. Maybe I’m lazy, or in some non obvious way feel entitled? It’s not that I don’t work hard. I work my ass off but I have this understanding that my batteries need to recharge, that it’s all worth something.

When we finally made the move to Iowa I immediately spun into culture shock. What is this weird planet I’ve landed on?

There is no social status. There is no better job, fatter paycheck. In fact, there’s no hustle, competition or materialism whatsoever, but there is a great deal of hard work. There’s non-stop productivity.

Women take care of the house, raise the children and work part time jobs while the men pull 14 hour days as their sweat pours into the land. This isn’t sexist. This is what it takes to survive out here. This is being productive.

As a creator I view productivity as how many words I can write in a day, how many pieces of art I can turn out in a week, how many hours I spend editing a video, how many conference calls, interviews, investing in marketing myself because every minute is worth money, and although I don’t need money for materialistic items because that’s not what drives me, I’m still driven by it so we can pay our bills, feed our children and in my case, afford to continue to create.

In any type of business, for any entrepreneur, in every profession we work that’s our life and we’re consumed by it. Its become our identity but that’s not the meaning of life. Are we missing the point or do we just not care?

It took me time to slow down and once I did I realized that if my main focus is productivity my creativity will suffer. I will suffer. My life will pass me by. Money is a means to an end. Pay bills, support family, stash a bit away for retirement. It has no significant value beyond that.

If I look at the big picture of what is truly valuable in life, money is nowhere to be found in that photo.

As I look out the window of my home office I can see the farm up the road across the pond. Spring is here and for the next two weeks I’ll hear the tractors running day and night planting crops. Come harvest season in the fall I’ll hear the combine running day and night clearing crops, and during the months between planting and harvesting all I’ll smell is manure.

On Sundays I’ll hear nothing. The town shuts down on Sundays. Businesses are closed. Everyone has the day off. No farmers are farming. Sunday is a day of rest. A day to rejuvenate, go to church, spend time with family and in its own way it’s still being productive because isn’t self care productive?

Since moving here I’ve asked myself questions such as, Why are people so obsessed with productivity? Is it for gain? Is it to avoid the difficulties in our lives we struggle to face? What makes us choose our path or profession? Why are we so willing to trade in our time for money when both are limited?

The most important thing I’ve learned is that whether or not our lifestyle is based off of money or livelihood, we’re equally possessed by the culture of productivity.

It’s time to slow down and smell the roses.

©️ 2018, Erika Sauter. All Rights Reserved.

Newspaper reporter in Eastern Iowa. The views expressed are mine alone.

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