This farming off-season (October thru April) I'm attempting a lifestyle experiment of sorts by not seeking formal employment. For the first month I looked for a job (begrudgingly) until I realized guilt was my only motivation to work - guilt over having the freedom not to work. Because guilt is never a good reason to do something, I opted to "follow my heart" instead, spending my days reading, writing, visiting friends, and working only when it felt right. (Shortly after I decided not to get a job, I committed to unpaid thrice-weekly compost runs in the farm truck.) My greatest fears were depression, and feeling like I wasted months of my life - both of which I experienced last winter, and neither of which I've experienced yet this year.
We're just over halfway through the off-season, and so I'd like to reflect on the pros and cons so far.
First the cons (or what's not working):
Oversleeping. I oversleep almost every day. Often I sleep about nine hours at night and spend another two napping in the afternoon. The only benefit is the countless interesting dreams I remember - otherwise oversleeping is a huge waste of life. Aside from the hours needlessly spent unconscious, I also feel lethargic for the rest of the day, making it harder to read, write, or be socially engaging. There's only three days a week in which I must wake up by a certain time (about 9:00), leaving me to sleep in the other four days.
Getting up would be easier if I had something to look forward to during the day, but since I usually make social plans spontaneously, most days look lonely at the outset.
Many unproductive days. I'd say two or three days a week end up fairly uneventful and unproductive. One such day is a downer, and two in a row is depressing. Usually I try to make plans with friends every day, but it doesn't always work out. I end up checking my e-mail and Facebook way more often than necessary.
Aloneness. I spend the vast majority of my time alone. As long as it's interrupted frequently enough, I don't mind - it gives me plenty of space to read and write - but I do miss the constant interactions I had in school, or during the summer at the farm - interactions I might have if I were working.
Not enough exercise. I get way more exercise than last winter (because now I walk briskly at least twenty minutes a day, more often thirty or forty) but it's still not enough to keep me in as good of shape as I'd prefer. In particular my arms are weak. I've occasionally done push-ups or lifted weights, but I'm not disciplined enough to keep on a regular schedule. And it's super boring.
Leaking money. I'm not making any money right now. Granted, I'm not spending much either (free rent/utilities, no car, parents' health insurance and phone plan), but as a frugal person it does hurt to see my account drain. I still say yes to going out with friends, but not without some degree of pain in my wallet.
(This was of course a calculated decision, because I knew I had more than enough to hold me till my next paycheck in May. But it does hurt.)
And the pros (or what's working):
The freedom to say yes. When I was in school I carefully guarded my free time, but now I'm delighted to give it up whenever someone wants to hang out or needs a favor - this is, after all, the point of having free time in the first place. Because I have no schedule or planner, I keep all my appointments in my head. When someone asks, "Do you want to go to the beach tomorrow afternoon?" or "Can you babysit next week Tuesday?", I can say "Yes!" without hesitation. (So far I haven't forgotten any plans or double-booked.) I've also undertaken a weekly blogging challenge (the product of which you're now reading), joined a book group, and picked up composting ingredients for the farm three mornings a week.
It means a lot when other people are available to me, and so my being available to others is a huge win for the Golden Rule. w00t!
Meeting people. I meet interesting people all the time - usually at Lemonjello's Coffee or the community kitchen. I have the freedom to welcome an unexpected conversation. Some have resulted in new friendships (a new girlfriendship in one case), and in general I feel more confident talking to strangers. Speaking of strangers, I see fewer of them all the time as more faces are joined to names. That goes a long way in making the world less lonely.
Rarely in a hurry. I seldom need to be anywhere at a certain time, and when I do, the stakes are low. I usually walk, and feel relaxed enough to take the time to greet people, wait for the stoplight, and notice natural beauty.
Few expectations. When I wake up I have very few expectations for how the day will turn out, which means I'm open to almost anything. The attitude also carries over to more scheduled days - last Saturday I planned to head to my parents' house until Thursday, but after some mishaps and miscalculations, I missed the bus. I let myself be frustrated for ten minutes, then decided to stay in Holland. I ended up having a fantastic day - not to mention avoiding the stomach flu ravaging my family.
The awesome days. Every few weeks, I have an incredibly awesome day - when I start with no plans, but every moment falls into place effortlessly, and I end up busy from morning till bedtime. It's exhilarating to say goodbye to one friend, then immediately hear from another; or to get struck with creative inspiration the moment I finish my composting run. These are the days it feels like God plans my schedule.
If every day was an awesome day, I'd become a freegan and do this for the rest of my life. Unfortunately I haven't yet figured out how to make the awesome days happen with regularity.
Overall, it's been a wonderful winter so far - a huge improvement over last year's, and easily better than the summer I worked in the software industry. Still, there's no reason to think it can't improve. For the rest of the winter...
I'm making a few tweaks to avoid the cons:
Going to church again. I haven't attended church regularly since my depression episode last summer, but now I started again. While I still feel very cynical about institutional Christianity and the "church mask" people wear in that context, I'm hoping that being in church will increase my flow of opportunities, filling out more of my free time. (Also I've missed the singing.)
Cutting back on pointless internet time. I just last night made an agreement with some friends that we'd each check e-mail and Facebook no more than twice a day for the next two weeks. Hopefully I can sustain the spirit of that decision long beyond two weeks, which would bring huge gains in my attention span, productivity, and sanity.
Meditating. I'd been toying with the idea for a while, but after hearing it recommended by a wide variety of people recently (from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to a Tibetan Buddhist monk to a favorite blogger), I'm giving it a whirl, starting with 15 minutes at a time and hopefully working up to a half hour each day.
I have yet to figure out a rhythm or style, but for now I'm using the Lord's Prayer as a starting point. My hope is that meditating will make me more alert, more aware of my body, more compassionate, and more comfortable being alone.
Eating more vegetables. I'm making a point of eating more vegetables. The farm has a bunch of carrots, kale, and spinach freely available to me, but until recently I haven't taken advantage of it. Now I'm eating a plateful of steamed kale every other day, and carrots and spinach when I feel like it. It should probably help stabilize my mood and sleep schedule.
Cutting back on coffee and late-night eating. I haven't been especially diligent with these so far, but in theory they should help me keep to a normal sleep schedule.
In general, I believe setting small, specific, achievable goals is the best way to correct flaws in my lifestyle. I'll report back at the end of April on any noticeable changes.