Before the beginning of my final year at university I spent the summer picking fruit up north in a little town near the state border of Queensland and New South Wales called Stanthorpe.
After some difficultly finding jobs, my girlfriend Michelle and I finally got work picking zucchini’s at a local farm. To get our jobs we had to convince and then promise the farms owners, a husband and wife team, that we were reliable and that we wouldn’t quit. We were told that the work was back breaking that they’d had a gut full of employees letting them down by quitting within the first week.
By the end of our first day I knew what they were referring to, I could barely stand up I was aching that much. But as we soon realised, there were other reasons that they had such a low retention of staff. Away from his wife, the husband’s behaviour was horrendous.
We were very young and his sexual attentions were very unwanted and they were constant. At one point he gathered the male employees together to watch us bending over picking zucchini’s and declared,
“We should make them wear uniforms hey boys? Short skirts with no underwear.”
I’m pleased to say that he was on his own, the ‘boys’ found him to be just as abhorrent as we did. We had no idea how to deal with something like this, we just tried to ignore it and hoped that it would go away, it didn’t.
After 6 days working there we had a day off. We travelled to visit a friend’s place that was on the other side of the border. On our way back we stopped and had a drink at a pub and we talked about our predicament.
For Michelle it was an easy decision, we couldn’t go back to work there, we’d find somewhere else to work. For me it was a massive struggle.
Firstly there was my fear about getting another job. We were living in a one-bedroom cottage with 8 other people; our combined weekly budget after we paid our $10 a week for rent was $50. Things were tight; between us we were down to our last $20.
But the even bigger reasons for my struggles were the beliefs that I held to be true of myself,
“I can’t call home for money and admit that I’d failed at this, I’ve never failed.”
“I’m not a quitter, I’ve never quit anything in my life.”
“I promised them, my word is my bond. I’ve never gone back on my word.”
No doubt there were plenty of times that I’d failed, quit and went back on my word in my young life. But the way I would have justified it in my mind was by never declaring that I was ‘trying’ in the first place.
Unknowingly or not the ‘Farmer’ had tapped right into some of my most tightly held beliefs. I had made the commitment not to quit, I promised them I wouldn’t let them down, and I gave them my word that they could trust me.
These beliefs were further exacerbated in me by them also being tightly held by my family. Going back generations our family culture has been very clear about who we are and who we are not. We are ‘not quitters’, ‘we don’t let people down’, and ‘we don’t break our word’.
I still believe the attributes of determination and resilience to be fantastic ones, but that day at the pub on the border with Michelle planted a seed that changed me. Until that conversation it had never occurred to me to ask the question,
“To what end?”
What was I hoping to achieve by sticking it out at a job that was providing me some of the most uncomfortable and confidence crushing moments of my young life? I had failed to look at the context in which I was displaying these character traits that had always served me so well in the past.
At the pub Michelle told me that her father had always given her the advice,
“If it isn’t making you happy then change it, do something else.”
My struggle came about because I couldn’t see how her family’s beliefs could possibly align with my own. I saw her father’s advice as flakey. I remember thinking to myself that it all sounded too easy, what if everyone just went about and did what made them happy?
What if everyone did what made them happy? Good question isn’t it?
It was at that moment that I also realised I held a pretty strong belief that struggle was good. When I looked at why I thought that, it was because in my world struggle meant hard work, dedication and determination; and to me that always led to success. That belief had always been true for me whilst studying or on the sports field; but there was no ‘success’ to be had in this context.
At that pub I was gushing with tears. ‘Where I wanted to be’ was happy and safe, and ‘where I was’ was trying to hold myself in an environment that was making me miserable and unsafe. My two wants were in direction opposition which caused me a heavy internal conflict, my head was saying ‘stay’ and my heart was saying ‘go’.
After our drink we left the pub and we crossed back over the border, which became a metaphoric precipice for me. We quit our jobs the next morning and picked up work at another farm sorting green beans on a conveyor belt.
The work was much easier, we were paid more, and I loved every minute of it. The people we worked with, including our new bosses were some of the best people I have ever met in my life. They were impressed and appreciative of the hardworking, determined attributes that we demonstrated. I look back on our golden summer in that little town as one of the happiest times of my life.
Michelle’s father was right, but so was I.
‘Get yourself into a safe and happy context’ and then try being ‘determined and tenacious’.
Over the years I’ve had many struggles when my tightly held beliefs were challenged, but every time the struggle has brought me a new perspective, a new ease and a new wisdom.
I’ve learnt three really beautiful lessons about my beliefs:
1. Beliefs are stubborn and hate the ideal of being changed. So we don’t need to change them when they are challenged if we don’t want to; just looking at the context is enough.
We wouldn’t hold it as a belief if it didn’t serve us in at least one context, so in that respect all of our beliefs are true and useful.
All that we need to bother ourselves with is it’s ability to function harmoniously in the context of our desires. If our beliefs are working in opposition to what we want then maybe it is time to put them aside for a bit until the context changes.
2. Beliefs are powerful and wonderful things but there is even more empowerment and joy to be found when we combine them with another’s. Not just anyone’s, but the one’s that align with the perspective of our heart.
3. Without even knowing it our beliefs can reach out well past our sphere of influence and out past our lifetime.
Michelle’s father will never know how his beliefs contributed positively to my life. Who knows how many thousands of people this one belief of his has, and will continue to bring joy to. Isn’t that cool?
Unfortunately I’ve lost contact with Michelle, I’m unsure of her married name so have been unsuccessful at tracking her down. On the off chance that anyone reading this does know Michelle (nee Waples) I would greatly appreciate you getting in touch with me below.