This morning I’m still thinking about a book I finished this weekend, The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks. I fully admit that the cover of this book grabbed me from its place on the shelf at the bookstore last week. Guilty: judging a book by its cover. Actually guilty, really, of being drawn in to a book by its cover. Gold star to that book designer!
From the time I read Heidi as a child and fell in love with the image of her climbing the mountain wearing ALL of her clothes at once, on her way to her crabby and unsuspecting grandfather way up there, and thanks to the time spent in my father’s home-village high in the Pyrénées, I have been in love with the mountains, with the pastoral life, with the sound of cow bells ringing across meadows, sheep in the fields.
From being there and from pictures of my French ancestors, I have this craving for that life, something I re-create as possible on my piece of sea-level land here in the not-so-wilds of Northern California. Without sheep, naturally, but with memories of my grandmother keeping me company as I work, her in her long black dress digging potatoes,
tending the carnations and the pansies, me in a tank top and linen smock squishing aphids off the scabiosa and baby-talking the seedlings, telling them how great they’re doing.
A simple, beautiful, delicious country life is all I ever wanted.
So this book, The Shepherd’s Life, was like communing with a like mind, albeit a distant one from a different culture, someone who really knows, having grown up on a farm, actually, working it with his father and grandfather, unlike me, who found my way back to it after a skipped generation. Someone who is making his living from it entirely, unlike me, still a hobbyist puttering, earning my living in other ways.
Much of what he had to say, beyond glorious stories of tending sheep in blizzards and lambing in a downpour, rang true for me. So much of what he writes is for all of us, shepherds and not, especially when he writes of the realization he has while out of his element at Oxford:
All of us contend with what are, for us, “the perfect people.” You know, the people who do what you do better than you think you do. The people with more education, more training, more experience, more clients, more names on their email list, more connections than you. The people you’re a bit intimidated of, the ones you look up to, that you measure yourself against. You know, those people.
I see this so much in my work with others, I see it in myself as a business owner, this tendency we have to look elsewhere and see perfection, so seldom seeing it in ourselves. This way we have of overlooking what it is that makes us “a bit northern and weird,” that thing about us that is actually our greatest strength.
What’s wonderful about your particular weird, is that nobody can do that weird like you can. It’s entirely, 100% yours. It is what makes you interesting, what will allow you, too, to “beat the perfect people by doing things they couldn’t do.” It’s that thing that happened to you, that shaped you. It’s those things you love unreasonably, passionately, that perhaps have nothing to do with your paid work – like me and my bees, or me and my dirt. That weird is what makes you.
Tell that weird story in your work. Weave it in. That’s what makes you interesting. That’s what makes you perfect.