The Power Behind Hard Work


My friend Jerry put this photo together several months ago and I posted it. People asked if that was my gnarled hand and suggested I needed lotion! That is not my hand! And I haven’t cut my hair either. That is Morgan and I planted inside the image, by Jerry, who has a sense of humor. It seemed to suit this post, so I’m running it again, though I don’t think the gleam in my eye is quite tough enough. And Morgan looks way too chipper.

I’ve never been a super crafty person. There’s a lot of artistic talent in my family, but that gene skipped over me. Call me accomplished at stick figures. However, much of what I’ve pursued learning, and have written about here, falls under the umbrella of what we consider today to be artistic crafts. Soapmaking, candlemaking, spinning, even preserving. We can easily buy soap, candles, clothes, and food at the store–we don’t have to make them. Once something is no longer a necessity, it becomes a craft. But the real reason I pursued those endeavors wasn’t as a necessity or an art.

I was pursuing a connection through crafts in the same way I’ve pursued connection through old-fashioned recipes.

Years ago, I wrote a piece called The Keeper of the Bread. In it, I say:

“….putting your fist into the dough is like touching the past. People, particularly women, have done this very thing, stuck their fists into dough and kneaded it to a perfect elastic ball, for thousands of years. My mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, and my great-great-grandmother made this bread, stuck their fists into this dough.”

This connection to the past through a given activity is not just true of bread or other baking and cooking but also of crafts like making soap, which is why I was more attracted to the hot process method of soapmaking. It was closer to what our great-grandmas would have done in a big pot over a fire. There are a lot of amazing soapmakers out there making soap into pieces of cake and so on, which are gorgeous, but that’s never appealed to me because the art of soapmaking wasn’t what I was after. I was after the ability to touch the past in some way through experience. I can’t actually touch or speak to those pioneer women who made soap by necessity, but I can do what they did, feel what they felt, to some degree, by following the most old-fashioned methods possible in recreating what to them was a chore not a craft.

And in the end, what I was looking for through that connection wasn’t soap or bread or candles, but that sense of strength I see in those pioneer women. They are, today, but faded black and white in rare photos, standing straight, grim, formal in poses on their farmhouse porches. They started their days milking a cow and getting biscuits in the oven. The remaining hours of daylight were spent sweeping and cooking and preserving, chasing younguns, and tackling whatever task was pressing down upon them whether it was making lard from their freshly-butchered hog or making more soap so the younguns would get clean. By nightfall, they were packing their ten or twelve kids into two or three beds and hitting their feather sack for some rest before starting all over again in the morning. These were dedicated women who got things done. They worked just as hard as the men plowing the fields, maybe harder.

From my comfortable suburban view, I felt lazy and purposeless in comparison. I came to the country looking for hard work. (The country is a good place to find it.) In exhausting myself through milking a cow, carrying wood up to the stove, canning, baking, and making my own candles, soap, lard, and so on, I was trying to touch their strength, draw from it. It wasn’t physical strength I wanted to find–it was their spiritual, emotional, intangible strength.

I looked for it everywhere, in every pursuit, and eventually I found it where it had been waiting all along, inside myself.

The crafts and cooking and canning and milking were just vehicles that circled back to me. Of course, I couldn’t see that in the beginning. I needed the process of the pursuit.

In today’s modern world, it’s almost as if we will do anything to avoid hard work. We celebrate innovation that eliminates labor. Time- and work-saving inventions aren’t by definition bad, but they do rob us of a certain integrity to our backbones. The lessons of hard work can’t be replicated any other way but by hard work. There’s grit and stubborn determination and persistence, and most of all, self-reliance to be found in pushing yourself to your limits and beyond.

There are a lot of benefits to convenience, too, and I’d be disingenuous if I claimed I never fall back on it. But when I take advantage of it now, I also carry like a secret whisper inside, I can do it myself. And that’s the power behind hard work of any kind, the confidence and awareness of your own strength and knowledge, the tough gleam in your own eyes just like that of the straight-backed women in those faded photographs.

It’s worth every drop of sweat along the way.


You can order Chickens in the Road: An Adventure in Ordinary Splendor now!

Amazon Button BarnesandNoble Button iBooks Button IndieBound Button


  1. rurification says:

    Amen. That reminds me of a line I heard once – ‘When you make a machine that does the work of a man, you take something away from the man.’ Hard work is greatly under-rated these days.

  2. Faith says:

    I knew you liked milking a cow better than dancing on rooftops at fancy hotels! 🙂 Me too!

  3. ibpallets (Sharon B.) says:

    Love this post! So true!

  4. lesliedgray says:

    EXACTLY the way i feel! Thank you for putting it so succinctly. Although I haven’t progressed as far down the line as you have (no cow, haven’t yet made soap, etc) I DO bake, can, dry & preserve, churn my own butter from store-bought cream, have even made a few candles and (usually) cook from scratch. I get a GREAT sense of satisfaction from making things myself.. I wish my husband would understand; he thinks I’m a bit cracked..

  5. Sue, a Florida Farm Girl says:

    I think this is one of the most profound posts you’ve made. Its one that we should all embrace. I truly think that the lack of hard work (even for myself) to provide the basics of life has skewed our perspective of what is important. Wants vs Needs, that kind of thing. And we’ve lost the connection to the land that comes from that hard work.

  6. milesawayfarm says:

    OMG. YES! I was trying to say the same thing in this blog post, but of course, you said it even better. “And in the end, what I was looking for through that connection wasn’t soap or bread or candles, but that sense of strength I see in those pioneer women.”

  7. Diane in Upstate NY says:

    Yes! That’s it exactly. Starting my own little homestead farm has changed me profoundly, and in ways I never expected. At my “day job” I am more willing to take risks, and I find it more difficult to take the politics seriously. At home, there are goats to be milked and hens to be locked up safely because death is always nearby, waiting for opportunity. That’s where the real challenges are.

  8. emmachisett says:

    Amen, woman, amen.

  9. Shire Girl says:

    This post really struck a nerve with me. Finally someone has articulated how I’m feeling! I could never explain it to others, but now maybe I can. I’m teaching myself all of these tings, too (while still living in the suburbs), and many times people think I’m nuts (including my husband). Last week I asked my mother if she’d be interested in taking a quilting class w/me, and my sister asked incredulously, “REALLY?? Why?! I would never be interested in that.” (well that’s why i didn’t ask you!) In addition to the satisfaction of making it myself, it’s a way to connect to my grandmothers and great-grandmothers.

    Thank you for this post.

    Shire Girl

  10. Dana says:

    I am bawling right now…. You are so there.
    Dana Mama

  11. CassieOz says:

    YES! When did ‘work’ become a rude word (“rude four letter word, ending in K, not used in polite company”)? When did it become something to be avoided at all costs? Don’t the shirkers understand what they’re missing; the satisfaction and self reliance that comes from knowing you CAN do it, even if you don’t always CHOOSE to?

  12. janet-wilkinson says:

    It’s like you’ve been peeking into that deep place in my heart that’s so full of stuff that I can’t ever seem to express so that it makes sense. When I read this post I was time-warped back to my grandmother’s kitchen (she died when I was 18 so I never got to know her as a woman) and her mother’s before her. My great-grandmother died when my grandmother was 7 and her little sister was 5, the youngest two of 8 children left at home. The other 6 were already married and gone. They had to step up and take their mama’s place as homemakers, cooks, and everything else that life 115 years ago consisted of. She learned very early how to work. Every Sunday the rest of the family came back for dinner that was expected to be prepared and ready. I never got a chance to ask her why none of the grown sisters, at the least, helped make dinner or wash dishes after. I just hope I’m living my life so if she could see, she would be proud. I love your website. I am fourth generation West Virginian and totally sick of all the snide remarks made about us by the rest of the country. It’s great to hear an “immigrant” find such happiness here. When you talk about everybody being cousins of some sort here, it sounds perfectly normal instead of the “inbred hillbilly” comments that I hear so often. You sure have a way with words. I’m going to drop a hint about what a great Christmas gift your book would make!

  13. TamFab says:

    Suzanne, I commend you on an excellent post about the true reward behind “hard physical work”. It is the intangibles: Sense of Pride, Self-Confidence, Emotional/Physical Strength, Grit, Determination, Perseverance. All these intangibles provide a solid foundation for one to lead a self-sufficient life for a lifetime. Kudos to you and Many Blessings!

  14. laurie hamar says:

    You have the gift of words that I always wished I have. My husband understands and loves it when he helps me make soap or can fruits, veggies, soups, etc….however, I do believe my friends and co workers think I’m nuts!

  15. pookie22 says:

    Suzanne, This post should be copied and reproduced, and hung in the classrooms of every school around. You have written something so real, true, and profound that everyone should be able to read it, and not just here on your blog. Bless you!

  16. MousE says:

    My book arrived yesterday. It was a busy day and today was not, so I forced myself to wait.

    When I read the words, “You’re that woman now,” my eyes filled with tears and I was so happy for you.

    I love the book. Well done, Ms Suzanne McMinn. Well done indeed. :snoopy:

  17. Dotty Hill says:

    Your book came today!!!!!!!…I am going to bed early tonight..
    can’t wait to tie into in!!

Add Your Thoughts