The Time/Money Continuum

I sat across the desk from my boss’s boss, Noah, having just given my notice. I’m moving on from my full-time delivery driver job after 6 months. It has paid well; I generally like it, and I’ve been treated well since the beginning.

“So, what’s up? Why are you leaving?”

The question, though simple, was loaded – stretching well beyond the realm of employer/employee dialogue. The simple answer I gave was that the work, plus the commute, was simply too time-intensive, given the nature of the farming season and the arrival of our new daughter. The reality, however, is much deeper. Though I had only consciously made the decision two days before, it had been months in the making in the deeper reaches of my mind.

I think a lot about the dynamic of time versus money. Having grown up in small-town Wisconsin, where the primary conversation-opener is some variation of, “What do you do for work?”, I understand the worldview of the hard-worker. To convey to an old-timer the arduousness and time-intensity of your labor is to receive a nod of approval, and some vague, habitual affirmation.

“Yeah, we’ve been working 10’s for the last couple of weeks. Get up to 60 hours most of the time.”

“That’s good.”

This interaction, though simple and primarily mindless, is powerful — cementing in our minds and habits the necessity and appeal of sacrificial work. We’re taught to work, work, work, until someday, if we’ve done it well and saved enough, we may achieve security, reaching the magical land of retirement where all of our needs will be met without our ever having to get out of bed in the morning.

Which actually sounds quite miserable. I enjoy working, and aspire to a future of purpose over aimlessness, which likely involves some sort of work. Why, then, have I left five jobs over the last two years?

One primary reason is the fundamental flaw I find in this notion of security.  I see members of my parents’ generation succumbing to heart diseases, diabetes, cancers, and various other physical and mental decrepitation at the hands of their over-intensive and under-rewarding working careers, and the stress they’ve laid upon themselves at the altar of eventual security. The financially fittest among them fall prey to the crushing burden of the hospital bill and ill health. Given all of this, I’m less scared for the future than the present, understanding health and continued wellbeing as the foundation of security.

Another factor is the creeping, incessant realization that anytime someone is paying me to do a job for them, they’re inherently making more off of my labor than I am. I’m selling my time, for less than I’m worth. As Rising Sand takes an increasingly prevalent role in my life and worldview, I’ve begun to share in some questions with my colleagues: “Why can’t we make it on our own business model? Why keep working for these other people and businesses, whose values and vision we don’t share? Hasn’t the power ultimately lied with us all along? Couldn’t we do better than this?”

Primarily, though, it comes down to time. Time is life, and one way or another there is a bet to be hedged. Am I willing to invest in the security of money — fluctuating numbers driven by nebulous, increasingly turbulent forces well beyond my comprehension, which supposedly calculate my worth? Or is the safer bet actually an investment in productive land, capable of providing food, water and shelter, and a robust community of resource-sharing friends and family? I can’t, I’m realizing, do both to the fullest.

The X-factor, of course, is my daughter Ella. I want her to be raised in the community of Rising Sand Organics, learning the lessons of the land and the community. I want her to have that good life.

So, having made the decision to air on the side of time over money, I called my brother Brian (owner of Bartnik Trucking) and lined up a weekly overnight haul to the UP, encompassing about 32 hours total, concentrated in one continuous chunk. With that call, 5 days a week opened up to me – two more than I’d had before.

Now the question becomes: can we live on $300 less per week? I think we can. It will be a matter of differentiating needs from wants, and nipping the extras from the red column. Every dollar that I don’t spend is a bit of freedom to live with my wife and daughter and co-farmers, and not for somebody else.

On Sunday, I appreciated a bit of that freedom. We slept in a bit, and enjoyed our simple bowl of morning oats before heading out the old Field Notes Farm to harvest wild greens, garlic, and perennials to transplant in our yard. We returned home and planted a small raspberry patch, along with a cherry tree, some mullein, and a magnolia tree for flowers and beauty. We watered the comfrey we’d planted earlier, and checked in with our blueberries. We made a simple lunch and dinner from the food we’d harvested, some veggies preserved from last season, and bulk grains we’d bought. I breathed easily and stared peacefully into the face of my daughter as she slept, knowing that this is the life we are choosing – the life of time over money, and freedom through frugality.

Is it the right choice? Could I be fooling myself – waking up one day as a broke old man, dearly wishing I could pull on savings from my working past? Maybe. But I would rather risk this than the possibility of missing out on the infancy of my daughter and farm. Either way, there is a bet to be hedged. And besides, hopefully by then there will be berries and cherries to pick, and a healthy, happy daughter and community of friends to take care of me.