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Finding Purpose in Work

By Dylan Koenig, Phase I Fellow

Work. In high school physics class, we learned that work is energy spent to cause movement or change to a system. I like this scientific definition and how it meets the more human idea - that work is something we do, not because we want to, but because we have to, or because we are called to. I used to feel that way about work - it was something I did to receive money so I could fund the things I actually wanted to do: recreation, hobbies, travel, volunteering, plus necessities like feeding and sheltering myself.

There came a time when I became consciously aware that work was one chunk of my life, and non-work was the other chunk. In one chunk, I was spending energy to move things and transform things, in the other, I was receiving energy and sustaining myself. And this balance was alright for a while - until I began to realize that that work chunk was the dominant force in my life. I woke up early to work, traveled far, got home tired, rested, repeated, then tried to heal enough during the weekend to enter the cycle once more.

This reflection came around the same time I started educating myself on the intersections of climate change and agriculture. I began thinking about where my food was coming from and if our food system was creating a future of scarcity and climate catastrophe. I struggled to reconcile these questions with the amount of time I was spending working, putting energy into motion, but where was that energy going?

Eventually, I was able to admit to myself that I did not feel good about how I was spending my energy and that I had the privilege to be more intentional with how I spent my energy. This realization might seem simple in hindsight, but for folks who have been riding a rollercoaster of their own design (or designed for them) since applying to college, it is difficult to think about changing tracks. I was spending my finite energy at a job that was largely decided by a 16-year-old former me.

At this point, I committed to being intentional with my energy, and to make a long story short(er), this journey brought me here as a Fellow at AMI during a moment in time where many people are thinking about or facing food insecurity for the first time in their lifetimes. My work is now to learn and serve my community. I learn about building soil health through food production, a sort of ecological win/win; I learn about living in community; I learn about alchemizing grains into fermented breads and beverages; I learn about the history of lands and cultures seized from their peoples, justified by racism; I learn about the nutritional value of beans. And I serve, by providing the fruits of this learning, of this work, to my community. And through this service, I am restored by purpose.

How many people must find themselves in similar positions, struggling to align their paid work with their values, or even identifying what their values are? If I could say one thing to these people, I’d say: keep struggling. These are the hard, important questions that are easier left ignored - but to which the answer is vital - to climate justice, food justice, racial justice, and the meaning of life itself. Put energy into motion, be intentional, be sustained, be a purposeful embodiment of work.

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