Welcome to the eighth in a series of articles entitled: Awesome Women with Awesome Jobs.
I was looking at my friends list on Facebook one day and it suddenly struck me that I know so many absolutely awesome women with rather special jobs. Jobs that are not just about pulling home a paycheck. No, these women work with passion. They have a mission.
That – to me – is interesting. I hope you will find it interesting too.
My guest today is Andrea Hejlskov.
C: I usually start out by asking people “What is your job” but in your case, I’d like you to introduce us to your project. Tell us about it.
A: Well, two years ago we quit our jobs, got rid of all of our possessions, took the kids out of school and ran like crazy. Out, out into the wild. We felt that we had lost personal freedom and personal choice, that life just “happened” and that a lot of aspects about life were defined by unconscious choices or coincidences. We wanted to reclaim our lives and, more importantly, our relations within the family. We settled in the wild woods of Värmland, Sweden and began building a log cabin with our own hands. Like settlers. Our “project” is simply our life. Still trying to make sense of everything, still struggling – but still here. And it’s very beautiful here. I’m intensely grateful that we did this.
C: And did you always know this is what you wanted to do when you grew up?
A: I am trained in the field of psychology, worked as a child psychologist and project manager butI had also had two books published and this nagging ambition, this wanting to BE SOMETHING and it really made me feel like shit. I suffered from a bad case of ambition in relation to my writing – because “being a writer” was really, deep down, what I wanted to do. It was what I imagined myself doing as a child. But my dream held me a slave and I had to really face my fears and my ambitions by brutally slaughtering it. It’s is only now – afterwards – that I can move towards the words again and so I have. I’m currently working on a book about our radical life choice. I imagined myself being really artsy and successful, a Boehme… and in a way I am but it’s not at all like I imagined it to be.
C: What is your formal education and how did that lead you to where you are now?
A: I hold an BA in Psychology, never finished my master thesis because I was headhunted for a book project and lost focus. I taught Personality Psychology at the University of Copenhagen for many years and although I do not use this formal training as it’s supposed to be used, I do use it in my art. I write in the genre of the “autobiography”. I write about my own self. I examine it and challenge it – I throw it out into the field of the social, into the public. They consume me. Praise me or hate me; “the self” is a construction and I like to examine the way we construct ourselves, and the mental images we reflect ourselves in. It’s risky business and I don’t really like it- but my interest in “the self” still, to this day, continues to shape my life.
C: So “running into the wild” sets up a sort of framework for exploring this “self” or what?
In a way you could say so. In our day and age people spend a lot of time “working with themselves”, doing meditation, mindfulness, reading self-help books – but there are some outer circumstances, some structures that define and shape your reality (work, society, possessions) so no matter how much you try and reach some sort of inner peace, you will still have to ground this in the everyday practical real life. Us running into the wild was a way of trying to liberate ourselves practically, in real-life from these structures that surround us. We felt that these structures “owned” us; that we “had” to act, do and feel in a certain way, or be in a certain way. We needed to strip off all of this – to face the bare, naked facts of life. Ourselves. The meaning of life and all that.
C: What does a really awesome day look like in your work life?
A: At this moment my work life is extremely sensitive towards what is going on with my crowd funding project. This is a new way for me to try to get a “writing grant”. I find it really challenging: I’m needing this money to write my book, this means that “my book” is already being shaped in the perception of my readers. My book is no longer “mine”- people are investing in me telling this story, the product is surely shaped by this process and I find that extremely interesting. But my work life is not really my writing. My work life is my everyday life out here in the forest. We want and need to get as self-sufficient as possible; this means that I’m currently planting a lot of seeds, finding more ways to cramp in room for these seedlings in our tiny cabin house. My typical everyday life revolves around practicalities: to fetch water in the well, to chop wood, do the dishes, prepare food. Things that would normally be secondary in my life are now primary, and I find great existential satisfaction in doing these everyday chores – because they are MEANINGFUL. There is no distance between my effort and what I get out of it. It’s connected. There’s some really important point in this, this way of structuring life in an existential meaningful way. I’m still, after two years, very fascinated by it.
C: One of the best-selling books in Norway last year was a book about how to chop and stack firewood. The most viewed program in all of Danish Television 2’s history is “The Hick” about a guy who lives on a farm and makes everything himself. It seems you are part of a trend omitting years of technological progress. Couldn’t you spend your time better than fetching water from the well and just turn the faucet like the rest of us?
A: Well our “project” (life) is not anti-technological. I’m online. I blog. We’re not at all against progress- au contraire, all that matters to us now, is PRACTICALITY. It’s not really practical to work 9- 5 in order to be able to afford a dish washer or a freezer, these THINGS are simply just not worth the effort you have to lay down in order to obtain them. But you can build an earth-cellar and it works just as well as refrigerator and building the earth-cellar is worth the effort. You get me? We’re simply trying to negotiate with all of these things. We said goodbye to all of it and now our life is about choosing what things we DO need. We DO need electricity for instance – but not for any prize in the world. We have a solar panel now and really harvest energy directly from the sun. A lot of the things that surround us are MEANINGLESS. They don’t matter. Instead we wanted, like all of the people you mention above, to negotiate with life, optimize it instead of just accepting the status quo as an eternal truth. It is not.
C: So what does a really boring day look like in your work life?
A: Our life out here is really shaped by the weather and the seasons. Winter is a time of stillness. It’s too cold to really do anything outside so we mostly sit inside. I guess that in the old days people would knit or something but we tend to spend this “spare time” on the internet and the internet, you know, can sometimes be really, really boring. But I think there is some sense in this. That our emotional state goes through stages. Spring and summer are times of great action: people are coming to our house to work, we’re building stuff, there’s always something happening and sometimes that can be boring too… You just long for some solitude and quiet time. And then comes winter and BAM!: You get all of that: The quiet time. Right now we are on the verge of spring. Winter is still holding on and it’s frustrating to be in the stage of transition. I really want to DO something. I’m restless!
C: What are the perks of your job?
A: My job is my life. That is, really, the biggest perk.
C: How much do you earn?
A: We live for around 8000 DKK a month. That’s a lot less than what we made back “home” and it has been both a challenge and eye opener to learn what is really IMPORTANT. As in: what things can you live without and what things will you prioritize on the expense of food? We have CHOSEN to be poor and that makes all the difference in the world. If you have not chosen to live without things, a life without things will not be very attractive. We wanted to question consumerism and we thought this was best done if we really challenged ourselves and said “NO”. It was extremely hard but it has also been worthwhile – what we want have gotten a whole new dimension. We don’t want things for the sake of things anymore – we want them for their PRACTICALITY.
C: Are there things you miss from “modern society”?
A: Yeah, sometimes I miss going to concerts or just walking the vibrant streets of Copenhagen in the summer- but all of that is not further away than we can go there. Once in a while. Otherwise I’m good.
C: Do you have a mission?
A: Yeah, I guess that I do. I’m very concerned about environmental issues and about social inequality. I strongly feel that we HAVE to change the way we do things. We cannot have infinite growth in a finite world. It’s just not possible. Instead I would like us, all of us, to question the status quo. To ask ourselves what is really necessary and not just mindlessly “Keep calm and carry on”.
C: How do people respond to all of this?
Because I am so messed up as I am, I tend to focus on the negative – and the negative reactions are there, sure, some people are extremely provoked by our choice. It’s just…. You know when you put yourself in a situation where you speak out or speak up you will receive some criticism. It’s only natural and some of the critique is even totally legitimate. It’s just that I really think people should tone down their hate generally online. Haters will be haters- but wouldn’t it be cool if we acted like real grown-ups?
C: Who else is good at doing what you do? Who are your role models?
A: I am very inspired by writers such as Thoreau and Henry Miller. They questioned the status quo of their time and both found great beauty in “the naked world”. I am also extremely inspired by all the farmers in the field of permaculture and the hardcore climate activists. I really admire the extend of their passion.
C: If you were advice anyone who wanted to do what you do, what would you tell them?
A: Prepare for failure. Prepare for defeat. Embrace these emotions. The more you run away from your pain – the more pain you will feel. Face the fear. Choose!
Read more about Andrea here: http://andthepioneerlife.wordpress.com/
Support her project here: http://www.booomerang.dk/projects/and-the-great-escape/
Follow her on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/andthepioneerlife
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This is where I blog about life as a woman, wife, mother, bad ass mother blogger, friend, lover, foodie and allround hellbender.
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