I am a Shepherd

A few weeks ago, I went to a friend of a friend’s birthday party in Washington D.C.. I didn’t know anyone and ended up talking to a nice young man who had just been accepted to an Ivy League architecture school. He was excited and earnest, and eventually got around to asking me what I do.

This may sound like a simple question but for some reason, it makes me uncomfortable. Sometimes I say, “I’m a farmer” which is perfectly true, but it doesn’t ring very true to me. I think because it brings to mind crops, or cattle or something. I have a huge amount of respect for farmers, but I don’t really identify myself as one.

Sometimes I just say something vague about being in the yarn business. Non-knitters don’t really have anywhere to go with this, which is fine, and knitters look at me like I’m made of cake, also fine. I’m happy to answer questions about my flock, my farm, and my lifestyle. But, in all honesty, the ‘business’ part of “yarn business” doesn’t ring altogether true, either.

What I want to say when people ask me what I do, what I like to say and what feels like the truest answer is, “I’m a shepherd.” And the only reason I don’t usually say it is because every time I say it to a man – and I mean every single time – the gentleman smirks a bit and asks, “Do you have a crook?” To which I reply, “Yes. I do.” It’s annoying.

Most people have never met a shepherd and the idea seems sort of silly or precious. But shepherding is a noble and serious profession dating back more than 6000 years. Being a shepherd means being responsible for the care of a flock and being a good steward of the lands they graze. It’s about surrendering yourself to the rhythms of the seasons, slowing your life down to match the pace of the animals and being ever watchful, ever vigilant. It’s about putting the needs of flock first, doing your absolute best for them and then worrying all the time anyway.

I’ve never felt like I became a shepherd when I got my sheep. It was more like I always was a shepherd and I didn’t know it until the sheep found me. They instantly gave my life a purpose and they’ve continued to do so every day since then. I am a shepherd to my boots. It isn’t glamorous or sexy or easy to explain, but it’s all I want to be.

So, when the earnest architect-to-be asked me what I do for living, I looked him in the eye and said, “I’m a shepherd.” And he surprised me. He smiled sweetly and said, “That’s really great. You should have business cards made and put ‘shepherd’ on them.”

I didn’t say anything. I just pulled one out of my wallet and gave it to him.

*This post originally ran on The Huffington Post.

18 Comments

  1. This story has always been an inspiration for me to honestly say what I do. I’ve always been slightly ashamed to say I work from home…But almost all of my adult life I have been self employed as a contractor to someone. I’ve had many different businesses: Home daycare provider, physician’s billing agent, professional sewing business, and now a poultry farm partner. Before I met you, which was before I was doing any farming, I kind of sloughed it off when I was asked what I do…acting like my “little” businesses weren’t worthy of my pride. I was wrong. Thanks for helping me to see that I am capable and should be proud of what I do!

  2. Wait… What does the business card say Susie ?
    That was my first reaction, does it say ‘Shepard ?
    Or ‘Susie Shepard- nurturer of all creatures including……
    I sure hope so and then a good discription of the ‘ goodies from sheparding’
    Joelle and I say on a regular basis we’d love to run away and be a Shepard.
    Slowing our lives down to the seasons of the animals.
    You are so lucky and we have much to be Thank ful for living vicariously your life as a Shepard without the Crook!

  3. I love this, and it couldn’t be more true. I always say that my “real” job is as an emergency dispatcher… which I’m always uncomfortable talking about as well. People always refer to us as “just dispatchers”.. both civilians and police/fire /ems personnel alike. What they don’t realize is that we don’t just sit there with dumb looks on our faces answering the phones like 1950s secretaries. We work our behinds off, usually keeping track of their loose ends or laziness (or their lives!), largely with no backup, no lunch, and no breaks. We often talk to mostly jerks or dying people. No one ever thinks to thank us, and everyone wants to talk to someone “more important”. I’m not a stupid person, and I am very good at my job, but for some reason I am not proud of it, and it makes me uncomfortable to talk about it.

    Luckily, my “fake” job is tending to our flock of sheep and chickens. As un-glamorous and dirty as it is, it offers so much more fulfillment and hope and happiness. No matter how terrible a day I can have at “work,” I am always put more at peace, if even for a moment, by hanging out in the barn. Even so, people are not sure what to say when we say we “have a farm”. I will say, since starting our little farm, I have met so many genuinely amazing and talented people that I would not have met otherwise. Even though we have not entirely found our niche, I finally feel like I belong somewhere.

    Thank you for providing a sounding board for my little rant… It’s been a long day, and I can empathize in many respects to your post. I may have to get some Shepherd business cards.

  4. I too am a Shepherd and Fiber Artist (and yes, they do need to be capitalized). I am proud of the hard work I do, and even when I have a day job to make ends meet, I still use those descriptions when someone asks me what I do. I have no problem educating people if they try looking down their nose at me (did it when I was “just” a stay at home mom too). People will only respect us when we respect ourselves.

  5. My husband retired early from scientific research to follow his dream and work as a shepherd. Land is hard to come by here, so he works on a neighbor’s ranch and whenever people hear that, they are usually incredulous. They often ask in a sarcastic tone “do you have a flute?” because in Israeli lore all shephards seemed to go out and play the flute while watching their flocks. His answer is usually along the lines of, “no, but I have sheep!” which at least helps them realise that he is serious about what he does.

    It’s a wonderful profession, and you are right to be proud of what you do! I know I”m proud of my husband for following his dream, and we hope to have a ranch of our own one day soon.

  6. If I substituted the word “mom” for shepherd, “children” for sheep and “family” for flock this post describes my experience in the wider world to a tee. ‘Such a conflict being so passionate about what you do in an era essentially ignorant to the contribution you are making!

    I’ve come to your site via Kate Davies’ (I bought a Shepherd and Shearer kit!) I love the whole concept and I’m thrilled to be supporting such a valuable and relevant community!

  7. Susan,

    Thank you for this post. It is lovely, inspirational and it stirs me to the marrow of my bones.

  8. I loved this post the first time I read it…..and I love it even more today. It’s such a blessing to know WHAT you want to be….and to be able to do it. :)

  9. As I sit here sipping coffee out of my Juniper Moon mug (no…I really am!), I read this and get a bit teary eyed. I’m not quite sure why. Maybe there is something in what you wrote that hits a part of me, strikes a cord. Perhaps its because, now being home full time due to RA, I understand the feelings. Maybe its because I have never understood why we have to defend and explain the unique and out-of-the-box decisions or livelihoods we choose. We know in our souls that we are exactly where we should be, but others think we have lost our minds, or, worse yet, are somehow lacking and disconnected from the “real” world. But in reality, I think, perhaps, they are the ones who are lost. Continue to watch over your flock, Susan. It is a lovely place to be…….

  10. I have always loved to listen to people talk about something that is their passion.
    So I can’t help but love this post. I love that you were always a shepherd but didn’t know it until the sheep found you.
    Kudos and many blessings to you as you live your passion.
    Thanks for making me cry a little and smile a lot.

  11. That is just SO great, i want to clap my hands like a child and shout hooray! (And you know what, since my husband is out at hardware store.. i think i will.) Only the 4 kitties will hear and see me. lol….. okay, so thanks for sharing this post. I love it, and would love to say i’m a shepherd. It’s beyond cool!

  12. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. It’s really inspirational to a lot of people who can also dream to find their true calling. I’m really looking forward to my Shepherd and Shearer Kit!

  13. Loved your post and the wonderful comments. When I tell folks I’m an editor, they usually ask me a questions about punctuation that has been troubling them. When I answer, saying I really don’t know much about commas and semi-colons, and that I’m a “content editor” (a person who figures out what readers want to read about and goes about getting photos and text that fit the bill), I get looks as if I’ve just said I’m Peter Pan! It’s nice to know that lots of us have jobs that puzzle people.

  14. Yes, hooray! Blessed are the Shepherds! It never ceases to amaze me, when common folk visit my little farm shop ~ and I get to talk’n about sheep & fiber goats ~ how little they know about WOOLies and the wonderful fiber animals that we all care for…yes, amazing!!!

  15. What a beautiful post. We’ve been wanting to add sheep or angora goats to our urban farm for awhile now. I would love to be able to spin my own yarn and knit truly homemade pieces for my family and friends.

    I’ve had many of the same issues when people ask, ‘what do you do for a living?’ I could list off a million things that I do for a living… I make and sell robot and monster wares, I bake bread and make cheese, I care for our chickens and work our land. I make most of things that we consume from scratch, but people just want to know what you do to make money, and if your one sentence answer doesn’t satisfy their curiosity, that’s it.

    I love to hear the answer from another person who truly knows what matters in life, and is doing something that makes you happy and makes you feel fulfilled every day. Very refreshing.

  16. You are a wonderful Shepard and are an inspiration to us all!

  17. To Kate, the Dispatcher: thank you for what you do. Really, really, thank you. Like many traditional female jobs, it is misunderstood, underrated, underpaid, underappreciated. Like those 1950′s secretaries. They worked long hours, doing the scut work that the men didn’t want to do, got very little money to do it, were considered essential, but not important. They were sexually harrassed, used, abused and thrown away when they got too old. I’m a secretary. My job title has been changed to office support or some such nonsense, but I’m a secretary. It’s my job. I love doing it. I love being in a support position, helping those around me do their jobs more efficiently and the office run more smoothly. I’m a woman and I’m proud to be a secretary. Jobs that serve others are jobs we should be proud to occupy. If we don’t stand together as women in our underrated jobs, how can we expect anyone else to stand with us?

  18. Thank you for that wonderful article. I, too am a Sheperd, been one for over 20 years and it has been my pleasure. I am lucky to live in a rural area of Massachusetts where people appreciate knowing where their yarn comes from.
    My next order of business cards will have sheperd on them.
    Carole

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