The dictionary says that things that are “autotelic” have “a purpose in and not apart from themselves”. It's a new word I stumbled across last week and I realise it is a perfect description of the frame of mind we should strive for in our quest for self-sufficiency. It's an important word because it describes a condition/state of affairs completely opposite to the “norm” in our modern competitive consumer society. Our upbringing and education combine with hundreds of hours of clever adverts to make us “goal” driven... We have to pass exams, meet sales targets and buy the latest gadgets. In order to be able to do this in adult life we spend many hours doing something we call “work” - we sell our time in exchange for money so we can get what we want.
If we learn to be “autotelic” then we no longer “work” because everything we do is done for its own sake and not to meet external goals. The activity changes from tiresome work to rewarding pleasure – and our time is well spent. That deep bed we have to dig means spending many pleasurable hours of skilful digging and organisation. That hay field we have to scythe will bring many hours of rhythmic slicing of the grass with a wonderfully sharp and effective tool.
And so it is with my harvest and autumn clearing of the garden. Each parsnip retrieved from its deeply rooted place in the lovely dark soil is a remarkable treasure of nature. Each firm thrust of my fork under wayward docks and nettles releases these unwanted weeds for disposal via my wheelbarrow onto the compost heap. Each pass with my powerful little rotavator leaves the soil aerated and free of weeds. Every hour spent peeling parsnips or carrots before blanching them, cooling and bagging is something to be looked forward to en route to a full deep freeze for the coming winter. And so it goes on. None of this is “work” - instead it is blissful communing with nature and the produce of our application and skill.
In our topsy-turvy modern goal-driven world it would be wonderful to see this word - “autotelic” - used more often. For the many who are driven by the lure of money and shiny goodies the prospect of becoming “autotelic” is remote indeed. By contrast the few who are, or become, “autotelic” are immune to the false promise of money. Their “wealth” lies in their ability to own their own time. As full employment and ever increasing wages become ever more rare after covid, the advantages of being “autotelic” will be manifest indeed!