This country-girl-come-builder had the framing all wrong…
I was thinking about the phrase “build the life you want” the other day. I think I’ve been getting it all wrong.
I use this phrase a lot. It’s one of the ways I describe what I do. “I help people build the life they want.”
But lately I’ve been feeling this expression jar with me a little. Like there’s a little red flag that goes up every time I use it.
So the other day when I had my bit of solo thinking time, I sat with it a bit. Why is it bugging me?
I think the thing about it is that “building” is hard work. I know that now. I’ve been on enough work sites to know that building is hard yakka.
And it’s hard in the sense that it’s relentlessly demanding. If you’re not in there swinging a hammer, nothing gets done.
When you’re in building mode, you’ve got to come up with all of the energy needed to get the job done.
I don’t think this is quite right. Life’s not quite like that. When we’re “building” the life we want, I don’t think we have to take complete responsibility for everything.
So I sat with it a little longer and thought, what is it actually like?
And then it hit me. We’re not ‘building’ a life. We’re ‘working’ a life.
As I’m sure you all know by now I grew up on the land. My first deal was a cow.
And being on the land is hard work. Oh boy is it hard work. But it also requires patience and acceptance. You can’t make it rain no matter how much work you put in. Staying back late at work a few nights in a row doesn’t make the crop grow any faster.
When you’re on the land you’re working in collaboration with the elements, whether you like it or not.
And when you’re on the land, the expression you’ll often hear is “working”. You’re “working the land”.
I think this is a much better metaphor. When you’re working the land, you’re doing your bit to maximise the chances of success. You’re making sure your water systems are in place, you’re making sure the fences are set, you’re making sure the soil has the right mix of nutrients, etc…
There’s a lot of responsibility. The responsibility of ‘initiative’ is on you.
But after that, you’re letting some powerful forces come in and make the magic happen. The weather cycles move and the rains come. The crops follow their own genetic marching orders to harvest. The cows eat the grass and grow fat.
This all happens because you put in the hard yards and created the conditions where it could happen. But the real magic (transmuting soil into fruit, transmuting grass into chops and sausages) comes through something outside of and bigger than yourself.
This is exactly what life is like.
I realise now that when I sit down with people and we try to map out directions – find our pegs in the sand – that it can be a bit overwhelming.
I want to lose weight, have better relationships with the kids, get back into photography, replace my income, set up a charity for kids in Africa, eat at home more, read more books, get my builder’s license etc etc.
Suddenly it feels like there’s an awful lot of balls to keep up in the air.
And if we’re already at the point of overwhelm, even the thought of adding just one or two more balls to our juggling act can make our eyes spin.
But the truth of it is that we don’t have to do everything ourselves, and there are bigger forces that we can rely on.
Our aim is to ‘work’ our life. And by that I mean start creating a space where the beautiful things you want to experience, can happen.
You don’t have to ‘build’ every little thing.
You want to be happy? Put in place some strategies that bit by bit start alleviating financial stress. Do things that buy you more time. Eat a little better and exercise a little more.
Some incremental changes here and there start opening up space for the things that make you happy.
You want more meaning? Start creating space for meaningful things. Open up or clear communication channels with your loved ones. Invest in something that makes a difference. Invest in something that inspires you.
Over time these will grow into things that fill your life with meaning.
It doesn’t have to happen all at once. Don’t put that pressure on yourself. Your life is what happens in the environment you create for it. Tend to the environment, then let the things grow on their own.
And the lessons of the land apply. Hard work is rewarded… in time. Keep on top of the weeds and attend to your boundaries. Nourish the soil and plant the right seeds. Learn when it’s time to step back and put your faith in something more ‘elemental’.
‘Work’ your life, and the fruits will come in time.
Does it feel more manageable to think about it in this way?