Working My Way Down the Corporate Ladder

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather

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<p>It all started at a little 50,000-Watt radio station in
Peterborough, Ontario. I started out selling radio advertising. Then I
moved on to selling television advertising. I went back to university,
for a year, then quit, got married and started selling microcomputers
in the early ’80s just as they came on the market. I actually turned
down a great corporate job in the biz to sell the small systems because
I had a sense that there was more of a future for me in personal
computers. When the Apple Mac came out and “desktop publishing” took
over from “typesetting ” in the late 80’s, we started our own business,
Aztext Electronic Publishing. We started out small, just me and my
cousin Dave, and then we began to hire employees. We had big plans for
growth until we discovered just how difficult it is to manage employees
and so we decided to scale back. For the most part it’s just been
Michelle and me working in our business.</p>
<p>Being self-employed was one of the keys to our ability to move to
the bush. Our business was somewhat portable. Technology allowed me to
move away from my customers. Then we got into the book business and let
the desktop publishing take a back seat. And since the U.S. economic
collapse caused our book sales to take a nosedive, it’s been “anything
for a buck ” around here. Now we’re selling vegetables, doing workshops
at the house on homesteading and preparedness, worked on websites, and
now that we’ve settled into new our economic reality, it’s pretty
great. Earning an income is definitely the toughest part about
homesteading.</p>
<p>A couple of weeks ago our neighbor Don Garrett called to ask if I
could help him in his shop. Don has a custom millwork business 7
minutes down the road from us. I’ve blogged about him before because we
get wood shavings from him that I use as bedding for the chickens, as
well as his marvelous off-cuts that I turn into kindling (read about
that <a href=”http://www.cammather.com/home-heating/i-am-the-king-of-kindling” mce_href=”http://www.cammather.com/home-heating/i-am-the-king-of-kindling” target=”_blank”>here)</a>.
Like Michelle and me, Don and his wife, Deb, work together in their
business. Recently Deb hurt her back. Some of his machines require 2
people to operate; one person feeding and one person removing the
finished product, and so Don was looking for a new helper.</p>
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<p>Last Monday morning I started my new job. And it SUCKED! Or it was
AWESOME! It all depends on how I look at it and what time of the day it
was.</p>
<p>The hardest part is having to leave for work at a set hour. Since
starting my own business, I’ve always started my workday pretty early.
And for the first couple of decades I worked horrendous hours. I was
the classic definition of an entrepreneur – someone who will work 80
hours for themselves so they don’t have to work 40 hours for someone
else.</p>
<p>My usual routine this time of the year is to be up by 6 a.m. to
start a fire in the house woodstove as well as one in the guesthouse. I
often bring in a couple of loads of firewood before I eat some fruit
and granola. I head into the office to check my emails, let the
chickens out at some point during this routine and then finally have
something for breakfast at about 9. I spend the rest of my day just
doing whatever needs to be done, depending on the season. I generally
spend most of my day working in the office, but if I feel like
splitting firewood for an hour at 2 pm, I do so. So it was quite an
adjustment to be dressed and finished eating breakfast by 7:30 so that I
could be in the woodshop by 8 am. (I actually prefer to call it a
“sawmill.” It makes it sound so historic and blue collar!)</p>
<p>The greatest part of working for someone else is that it reminds me
once again how great I have it working for myself. After being
self-employed for 25 years it’s easy to forget. Working at Don’s is a
huge reminder about how great I’ve had it.</p>
<p>Getting out the door on time is a hassle. So is the adjustment to
working in a factory, even if it is a relatively small “factory.” I
heat our house and guesthouse with wood, so I often spend the day chain
sawing and spitting firewood. After a busy day in the woods I can spend
the next day (or two) in the office doing computer work and
recuperating. Now I am using my muscles all day long. Day after day.
What a concept.</p>
<p>The bonus last week is that Don and Debbie also have a commercial maple syrup business (read about it <a href=”http://www.cammather.com/current-events/a-sweet-time-of-the-year” mce_href=”http://www.cammather.com/current-events/a-sweet-time-of-the-year” target=”_blank”>here</a>)
so we spent 3 afternoons in the bush tapping trees. The maple syrup
season is early this year. It’s a little scary how early it is. If you
doubt the reality of climate change, talk to someone who is in tune with
how the maple trees are behaving. Even thought it is only February,
the afternoons have been sunny and warm, and so I was getting paid to
be out in the bush tapping maple trees. How great is that?</p>
<p>There is an adjustment that comes with reduced expectations. I have
run a successful publishing company. I actually did Don’s website (<a href=”http://ddgarrettmillwork.com/” mce_href=”http://ddgarrettmillwork.com/” target=”_blank”>http://ddgarrettmillwork.com/</a>)
for him. So I have relevant skills, but frankly I’m pretty burned out
on using them. We’re gradually trying to transfer our energies to
earning our income through growing food, which is something we’re
passionate about. But as I worked at moving the finished wood products
to one spot and tossing the scraps on to another pile, I kept asking
myself, “am I putting my skills to the best use?”</p>
<p>As the day wore on, I seemed to enter this Zen-like place and I
decided that it doesn’t really matter. We still need a bit of money to
pay our taxes and put gas in our car and a few other expense, so I have
to earn an income somehow. I could go back to doing corporate catalogs
for industrial products that I care nothing about and know have an
adverse effect on the planet, but I don’t want to do that. Now I’m
making hardwood floors. People are going to live in houses and need
floors. They can put down carpet made from oil, or laminates made from
oil and wood chips and nasty chemicals, or they can put down hardwood
floors. I own 150 acres and I can vouch for the fact that forests grow
back after you cut down some trees. They are infinitely resilient and
regenerative.</p>
<p>Spending the day making a product that is abundantly beautiful,
natural, fully regenerative and will last literally for 100 years or
more, isn’t such a bad thing. The biggest challenge is to get over the
mindset that “someone who works on a computer has more to offer society
than a mill worker.”</p>
<p>I think the defining moment came late in the week when a couple came
in to talk to Don about buying trim for the cottage they are building.
It turned out they are from the same suburban city that I had moved
away from. They drive a high-end SUV and are obviously building a large
cottage. And there I was working in the shop. Actually at this point, I
was getting the drop lines ready to take out to the maple bush. Drop
lines are what the sap flows down in to the plastic tubing that runs to
the tanks where the sap accumulates before being moved to the
evaporator.</p>
<p>At one point the woman asked Don, “Oh, are you getting ready to make
maple syrup?” in a sort of “Oh isn’t that quaint, look at the people
of the woods trying to earn a living” kind of tone. I thought for a
minute about where they come from. I used to ride my bike to the top of
an escarpment and look down on at the city when I lived there. There
was a brown haze that hung over that city, thanks to the industrial
activity in the area. The suburban sprawl continues unchecked there and
the defining cultural activity for the people living there is
shopping. It’s all about buying stuff. It’s about working all week in a
miserable job, driving through commuter hell and then buying crap on
the weekend that you hope will provide some fulfillment.</p>
<p>And it was then that I finally achieved that moment of “Zen” when
you stop caring about what anyone else thinks of you and you
realize that you’re exactly where you want to be, doing exactly what
you want to be doing. Something that is relevant and real – making two
products, hardwood floors and maple syrup, that are both practical and
add to the quality of life. I live in paradise, I commute 7 minutes to
work through forests and past lakes, and I get to spend the afternoon
in the sun-bathed maple forest surrounded by massive generators of
positive energy – maple trees.</p>
<p>Yup, that’s me. I can now add mill worker and tree-tapper to my resume. And it’s pretty awesome!</p>
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<em>Photo by Cam Mather. For more information about Cam or his books please visit <a href=”http://www.cammather.com” title=”www.cammather.com” target=”_blank”>www.cammather.com</a> or  <a href=”http://www.aztext.com/” mce_href=”http://www.aztext.com/” target=”_blank”>www.aztext.</a>com</em>
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