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I recently received a copy of Margaret Roach’s book And I Shall Have Some Peace There.
I was not previously familiar with Margaret’s wildly popular garden blog, A Way to Garden, but I was fascinated to learn about her transition from editorial director of Martha Stewart Omnimedia to full-time gardener at her country house in upstate New York.
I know a lot of people who fantasize about giving up monetary success to create success on their own terms, so I was grateful to learn a little from Margaret’s experience.
Though I am only about half-way through Margaret’s book—and really enjoying it!—I decided to ask her a few questions that may be helpful to anyone who is considering a major life change.
1. When you decided to leave your job, did you feel you knew for certain that this was the right choice for you?
Getting to a certain age helps with “certainty,” if there is such a thing in any action we ponder or take. Finally, when I approached my 50s, I knew that I would simply dry up and blow away if I didn’t bolt.
And I knew that I was getting too old to pretend that forever and ever lies ahead; carpe diem.
I don’t think I was certain at all what life here would be like. I don’t think we can really accurately forecast what lies across any threshold. But I knew that life back there—the urban static, the disconnection from outdoors and its creatures, the rhythm dictated by a back-to-back meetings and not my internal pulse—was too brutal.
For all of my adult life, I felt as if I was the spirit of a hippie-chick back-to-the-lander trapped inside the body and skyscraper existence of a corporate executive.
I had effectively squelched that person who wanted to live close to nature—allowing her only weekend passes into the garden, little teases like the garden was her long-distance lover, and then snatching it away every Sunday night.
I finally let the other aspect of Margaret have the car keys, if you know what I mean. And she drove like hell, to the woods.
2. Did you have any nagging fears that may have stopped you from taking action—and if so, how did you get past them?
All of my fears just before and after moving were of the practical sort: How would I support myself, as I wasn’t old enough to retire? (If any of us can ever retire with current economic factors!) How would I find health insurance?
Solutions: I have become a master barterer, taken a chainsaw to my former budget, have several part-time jobs in addition to book-writing, and (hallelujah!) joined the chamber of commerce, which affords me access to insurance.
Once I got here, I realized that the rural environment presented new fears, or maybe it actually repackaged old fears that, when faced full-time, suddenly seemed vastly bigger than they had in my years as a weekender.
There was no escape now; I couldn’t get in the car and drive away from an inconvenient problem, which the country has a way of delivering to your doorstep a lot.
Like lightning. Prolonged power outages. Rattlesnakes (yes, I share the land with them). Winter (particularly on a steep, icy hillside). Ladders. (I know, that sounds stupid; but if you live alone in Nowheresville and climb one and fall off, who will come?)
I had to reckon with all of these—some by just going through them (practice makes perfect!); some by equipping myself better (sharp cleats for my boots in winter, so I can walk on ice); and some by surrendering and accepting my powerlessness (like in power outages).
And of course I quickly ran smack into the scariest one of all once I settled in: Who am I if I am not mroach@marthastewart [dot] com anymore? Where will I gain my identity; how will I feel like “somebody” in this world of credentials? For so long I took esteem from my “success” in career.
3. Do you feel like you’ve been happier since you embraced a simpler life?
It would be hard to describe the joy I get out of looking out the window, even in the dead of winter. I feel as if a nonstop play is being performed just for me.
Of course it was all going on all those years I was absent—birds and frogs and other animals and plants and the weather all doing their intimate, interconnected things—but I missed most of it.
Another sign of my greater happiness, I think, is that my level of self-care is so much higher, a priority now, not an afterthought. I cook three meals a day. A friend used to say I was one frozen organic entrée away from a nervous breakdown—never time for cooking (which I love, especially with things from the garden).
I work a lot, but I work when I want and sleep when tired and eat when hungry. This seems like a very basic formula for how to feel better, but so often we don’t follow any of those cues, do we?
4. What are the three most important things you learned from your experience working for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia?
Martha’s motto, “Learn something new every day,” remains a mantra, indoors and out.
Funny as this might sound, I run my tiny, one-woman-band business, Margaret Roach Inc., and my garden blog according to the same principles we used at MSLO. I stay focused on what my “brand” is (to thine own self be true, right?); I do an email newsletter, using the skills I learned there; I use all available data to analyze how I am doing, as I was taught by my mentors at my old job.
And of course there is this, a lesson first taught to me by my Grandma Marion, who studied domestic arts in college, a lesson reiterated by Martha: Nest. Your home is the center of your life, so make sure it suits you, whatever that means.
5. What are the three most important things you learned since you left?
I left my old life partly to have more solitude, in the hope of rekindling my writing voice. But I never imagined how much solitude I would really crave, and need.
We tell agitated, stressed-out kids to take a “time out,” or go to their rooms and read a book on their own. We never give ourselves time-outs.
I learned that I am a cat person, or at least a Jack person, since giving in to Jack the Demon Cat, the semi-wild big tuxedo type who adopted me here. I never really had my own pet before.
And I learned that “dropping out” as I did, leaving the fast lane or whatever, is really more of a dropping in, and has proven very meditative and contemplative in a way I hadn’t experienced.
6. What do you hope readers take away from this book?
Don’t stay too long at the fair (to use an expression from a vintage Bonnie Raitt song), that says:
Won’t you come and take me home
I’ve been too long at the fair
And Lord, I can’t stand it anymore.
That if you hear yourself saying, “I don’t have time for _____” a lot, and it’s the same thing over and again, something you actually long for, it’s time to make time.
As a culture we watch TV and use the internet many hours a week—we “found” time for that. Not every heart’s desire requires a drastic geographic shift like mine did; sometimes it’s just making time for a little more of something beloved.
Very simply: If the joy has gone out of an aspect of living, find a way to put the joy back in. Don’t defer!
7. What advice would you offer to anyone who is ready to take a major leap of faith?
Do the obvious and old-fashioned thing of making a list, a pro and con chart, and then make it over and over again, till you’re really honest—or better yet, pin it up where you have to look at it every single day for a long time.
My list was called “Tolerances,” as in what can I tolerate how much of for how long. In hindsight, I think making a list called “Attachments” would be smart, to try to look at what hooks us in to where we feel stuck.
If/when you feel “sure,” as much as that is ever possible, then sit down and try to make a budget or timeline or business plan (depends what you are cooking up) for your dream.
Apply practical techniques and see if it still flies. This is especially important if you are going to be risking things not easily replaced.
Don’t expect to feel safe and sound the minute you start your new thing. Don’t even expect to know what you will do when you step across the threshold to the other side. Be kind to your disoriented self.
The new place, as much as we have dreamed about it, is somewhere we have never been before. It takes getting used to.
Even if it’s the “right” new place, experience, relationship, job, or whatever, there may be some thunderstorms or slips and falls in the script.
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Photos by Erica Berger and Margaret Roach
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