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  • Writer's picturejamesbriankerr

Peaceable Man Files #37: Harvesting the Corn

Random musings on my vagabond existence in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania and wherever else life takes me.

The farmer was out in the field this past week harvesting the corn that he’d planted back in May. In a matter of a few hours, twenty-five acres of ten-foot-tall field corn were reduced to rows of stubble.

To everything there is a season, goes the oft-quoted passage in Ecclesiastes, and a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to plant and a time to sow. A time to build up and a time to tear down. A time to be born and a time to die.

The corn’s time had come. It had its season in the sun and now was fermenting in a plastic-covered pit back at the farmer’s yard. The corn’s purpose, the reason the farmer planted it in the first place, was to be ground up, stalks and all, into high-energy sileage to feed his herd of beef cattle during the upcoming winter. Those cattle, in turn, would feed people. And the money that came from selling the beef would feed the farmer’s family.

What could be a nobler purpose than to feed the hands that take care of you? It’s a mutually beneficial relationship: Give me my season in the sun and I will repay you by giving you my toil and energy to do with as you see fit.

It strikes me that we humans make such arrangements ourselves. We have a limited period of time on this earth (much longer than that of corn, thankfully) and we willingly exchange our time and energies in return for the currency we need to put a roof over our heads and food on the table for our families.

It is a noble exchange: to trade one’s skills and talents so that we can take care of our own. The key, it seems to me, is to enjoy that exchange and find fulfillment in it.

“What gain has the worker from his toil?” asks the author of Ecclesiastes. He answers his own question by saying that God, who has made everything beautiful in its time, has put eternity into people’s minds and that “there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live.”

How awesome is that?

And yet, how many of us are truly happy in our work? How many of us feel the work we do every day is meaningful and fulfilling? How many of us jump out of bed in the morning, eager to give the best of ourselves to our employer or our business?

Alternatively, how many of us view our day-to-day work as drudgery and can’t wait for the workweek to be over so we can do what we really want to do?

If we believe the surveys, there are more people in the latter camp than the former. In the most recent State of the Global Workplace survey put out by Gallup, sixty percent of workers reported feeling emotionally disengaged at work. A record half of all Americans said they felt stressed on the job.

Man, that’s a tough way to live. I know because I’ve been there. As I relate in The Long Walk Home, for a good chunk of the thirty-plus years I spent in the corporate world, I was pretty unhappy. Yeah, some of that unhappiness owed to the fact that I was working for a failing technology company that had a toxic culture born from continual losses, restructurings, and layoffs.

But in truth, the bulk of my unhappiness was because I wasn’t doing what, in my heart of hearts, I really wanted to be doing, which was inspiring people through my writing. I felt resentful of my employer and the management team for making unreasonable demands on my time. I resented my financial responsibilities that were keeping me locked in this unhappy place.

It was only when I lost my job after twenty-seven years at the company, tossed out the door without so much as a thank you from the organization that I had given so much to—it was only then that I freed myself from the illusion that something other than my own need for security was causing my unhappiness, and if I wanted anything to change, I needed to cut the cord and take a chance on myself.

It was eight years ago this month that I made that long walk home from the office after getting the news of my impending job loss. I remember what a glorious October day it was: sunny and cool, the trees wearing their bright fall foliage. Two years earlier, I had completed six months of chemo for stage 3 colon cancer. Now I had another tough mountain to climb.

I was fifty-five years old. I had kids in college. How was I going to do it?

I didn’t know. There were no certain answers. There never are in life. We just have to keep the faith, keep walking, until new doors open up to us.

And they do. I’m in a much better place these days, not only in my career but in my personal life. I’m running my own communications firm. I’m writing every day. I have one book out and I’m finishing up another. I’m engaged to be married next year after fifteen years as a single dad.

It’s not an easy thing, to take a shot at ourselves. The easier way is to take the well-traveled road, the road paved for us by others. But there’s great satisfaction in forging something that is unique to us and our God-given talents and passions.

Are things perfect in my life? Hardly. I’m not making the money I used to and were it not for the fact that my kids are out of college and I have some savings socked away, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing.

I’m grateful for all my past career experiences and to the organizations that gave them to me. And I’m thankful I’ve been given this shot to try something else.

“I know there is no good,” the author of Ecclesiastes goes on, “but for a man to rejoice and do good in his life … and also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labor; it is the gift of God.”

What a gift it is.

It’s something to reflect on in this season of harvest. What will our harvest be when our time is done?

As for me, I can only hope the fruits of my labor will feed others, as the farmer’s corn will feed his cattle this upcoming winter.

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