Whenever life gets tough, I remember how shit I’d be at farming, and how a tough life makes you tough.
I have a mate of mine who lives in a nice apartment community up in Cairns. It’s a bunch of stylish, low maintenance unit towers. For that reason, they’re pretty popular with retirees and people in the twilight years of life.
He’s also on the body corporate. He was telling me the other day that the biggest problem they have is how to keep the old fellahs out of the garden.
The community is low maintenance by design. Someone comes to clean the pool. Someone does the gardens. Someone mows the lawns. The gardener puts the bins out when he arrives and puts them away at the end of the day.
By design, there isn’t much to do.
This drives the old blokes crazy.
Most of them have come off the land – off one of the sugar farms that surround Cairns, or off the rich agricultural land in the Atherton Tablelands.
And they’ve spent the full working lives, from 17 to 70, 7 days a week, sun-up to sun-down, working the land. Working hard.
They literally don’t know how to stop.
Suddenly they go from managing several thousand hectares, to a few square metres. They don’t know what to do with themselves.
Their energy and work ethic needs an outlet. And so they try get involved with the garden. They want to put the bins out. The roller gate is a little squeaky so they get out the tools to have a tinker.
So then the body corporate gets complaints from the gardeners because someone’s been messing with their program.
So body corporate puts up a sign that says: “Please do not help with the garden.”
Most body corporates should be so lucky. A lot of body corporates end up with signs like, “Please do not urinate in the car park.”
But the poor old farmers go crazy. They’re cooped up in the apartment with nothing to do. Crosswords and day-time tv only fill so much of the day. And they want to be doing something. They want to be productive. They’ve barely wasted an hour of daylight their whole lives. They just don’t know how.
And it’s a cruel irony. They’ve probably spent their whole lives dreaming about moving to the coast and putting their feet up. Now that they finally have the freedom to do that, the dream is sour. They just can’t enjoy it.
And they get a bit depressed.
You gotta feel sorry for them. I admire these tough old bastards. A tough life made them tough. They weren’t given an easy run of things and they rose to the challenge.
I find them inspiring for a few reasons. First, when I feel like things are getting tough, I sit back in my large leather chair, take a sip of my ¾ skinny latte, and imagine I’m out in 40 degree heat or 40 inch rain trying to wipe the crap off an angry sheep’s bum.
A little bit of perspective goes a long way.
The other thing I remember is that hard-work is a skill, and skills can be learnt. I’ve seen this with my own journey. I often hit points where I think I’m past full-capacity. Like if I keep this pace up I’m going to blow a gasket or something.
But after a while, the hard yards become your new normal. You surprise yourself at what you’re actually capable of.
In time, you’re able to knock over a week’s worth of work before morning tea time.
Never underestimate what humans are capable of. Never underestimate what you yourself are capable of.
Life is long. You can get a lot done.
This is one of the reasons why I never wanted my kids to go anywhere near the dole. I never wanted them to get an inkling that there are alternatives to hard work.
I’m not saying I don’t think we should have systems in place that make sure that temporary hardship doesn’t become permanent disadvantage. I think we can take that as a measure of society’s success.
But there’s a trap there, and I’ve seen it with some of my kids’ mates. Life asks you to stretch yourself. To push your limits and expand your capacity.
In fact, constantly pushing at your limits is the only way you can grow – the only way you can expand what you are capable of.
This is an important mechanism of personal growth and development. We’re not helping any one if we help them side-step hard work.
Some people seem to think that life is meant to be some cruisy ride from adolescence to easy street. I certainly did in my early twenties. That might seem nice, but you’ll never know you’re full potential if you don’t ask life to challenge you every now and then… if not every day.
So that’s why I was never a fan of the dole for myself or for my kids. I didn’t want to see my kids sink, obviously, but I did want them to know the value of hard work. I wanted them to learn the confidence that comes with butting up against obstacles – the tough times in life – and over-coming them.
Of course there’s a balance in all things too. I genuinely feel sorry for these old farmers who have earnt their retirement twice over, but just don’t know how to enjoy it.
And it probably is a shame that their lives were so full that it was difficult to explore other interests.
And the truth of it is that the system doesn’t always do a good job of rewarding hard work. The more I see of how the system works, the less inclined I am to give up my comfy leather office chair for a tractor.
But still, hats off to the tough old bastards. You’ve done your bit. Time to take a break.
Are we doing enough to teach kids the value of hard work?