Folks in the traditional labor force are generally considered an expense to the businesses they work for, from the accounting perspective — neat, tidy, black and white, easily spreadsheet-able. And even though many CEOs say their company’s labor force is its greatest asset, the daily management and financial machinery have a difficult time accounting for the value of that intangible entity. Looking at my own decades in the traditional labor force, I conclude that I could not have ever afforded to buy my lifestyle with cash, but the combination of judicious cash investment, in addition to thousands of hours of my own labor, allowed me to work toward the goals of financial independence and a life that I don’t need a routine vacation from. Yes, I agree, I am lucky. Yes, I agree, I am slow.
A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with a young woman who desperately wanted to live off the land and create financial security for herself and her family. Her biggest concern was how she would get a sufficiently high-paying job that would supply the capital to purchase the land and other stuff required to execute her plan. With full disclosure that I am not a life-path planner, I suggested that she think about how she might use monetary capital strategically to develop modest infrastructure that would allow her to embark on her desired lifestyle journey right away. And that she consider a less highly compensated job that wouldn’t eat her energy to do anything but crash at the end of the day. I suggested that her own skills and actual labor applied to her goal was her largest wholly owned asset, and that she could choose to direct it at her lifestyle goal, at least in part, rather than selling it all to some bidder who will gladly take everything she has to give and then some. After considerable thought and research, she came up with a fairly specific short-term plan and a much more general long-term goal. If she sticks to it with sufficient flexibility to adapt to changes, I believe she has a great chance of achieving her dream.
Developers and realtors call it “sweat equity” as it pertains to property and various so-called improvements to property. That’s one way to look at it, but if the effort feeds your passion and every hour you spend building an energy efficient home, fencing pastures, and creating rich soils releases endorphins and provides excellent exercise and exposure to abundant fresh air, I would argue that your labor is also a mental health asset, a physical health asset, a nourishment asset, and so much more. In fact, the real value of your skills and labor, when applied to your own self-reliance, is virtually impossible to quantify, but it is profound nonetheless.
The path to self-reliance is as varied as the individuals who pursue it. One of the most difficult hurdles is getting started. I got my start farming vacant lots in a large city. I partially supported my family through those efforts and fed us well. I’d love to hear how you all got started, or even how you developed your dream.
What worked for you?
What was the toughest hurdle? How did you leverage your own skills and labor to make it work?
Send me an email at HWill@MotherEarthNews.com, and if we get enough anecdotes and examples, we might compile a list for a future issue.
See you in April.