Work-Life Balance: Lessons learned from a hay bale to the head

haybaleWe’ve all heard the expression “I’m buried in work.” Of course, it’s usually meant figuratively. But there was this one time when I got to witness the literal application of this old adage.

hay-bale-to-the-headAs a teenager, my younger brother Nicholas and I used to do a lot of farm work for our neighbours. Mostly things like picking stones or doing hay.

We were only making 5 bucks an hour and even that was tough to get sometimes. I remember one old farmer being completely outraged at our labour costs, insisting that when he was our age they used to get “a bucket of green apples” for a day’s work and they’d be lucky to get that… Cash will be fine, sir.

One hot summer day, Nicholas and I were doing hay for a local farmer. To protect his identity, we’ll just call him Joe. We were starting to fill a new hayloft and for all y’all city folk out there, I’ll explain how that works.

After you cut your field, the rows of hay are left out to dry. And then (after negotiating how many green apples your hired hands will cost) the hay is bundled up using a baler and loaded onto the wagon.


When the wagon is full it’s driven back to the barn and unloaded onto the elevator – essentially a large, inclined conveyor belt – which takes the hay bales up to the hayloft. The bales would drop off the elevator where we would work with Joe to grab the bales and stack them neatly to create the hay mow.


Now, when starting out a new hay mow, the bales would often be dropping from a considerable height. With these things weighing around 40 pounds each, you had to be careful not to be clobbered by an incoming hay bale as you grabbed for another one.

Joe was familiar with this risk. “Let’s watch out for each other, boys,” he reminded us. “OK,” we replied shyly. The work started at a manageable pace, but before long we noticed that the speed at which the bales were dropping off the elevator was rapidly increasing.

And then, as Joe reached down to grab a hay bale, Nicholas and I watched in inept silence as another bale plummeted from the elevator.


It slammed into the back of Joe’s head, mashing his face into the ground. For a moment, he was quite literally buried in his work.


Staggering to his feet, the stunned Joe, who probably had a severe concussion at this point, turned to us and said, “THAT’S WHY WE LOOK OUT FOR EACH OTHER!”

We mumbled a sheepish apology and got back to work.


dizzyLife can sometimes feel like Joe’s barn: frantically trying to keep up with a seemingly endless and increasingly fast-paced barrage of work and activity. We scramble to do the best we can and fear that if we stop to take a breather the pile of hay bales is just going to get bigger and bigger.

But like the blow to the back of Joe’s head, there are consequences to working and living that way.

It affects the quality of our work

As the speed of the hay bales increased in Joe’s barn, the sloppier our mows became. Similarly, trying to keep up with a dizzying pace at work is a sure-fire recipe for half-assery. We may be getting a million things done, but it’s a million things done in mediocrity.

I know for me, I tend to be more productive, creative and better able to problem-solve when I’m in a positive frame of mind, well-rested and not stressed to the max with bales of hay crashing around me.

It affects our health

Perhaps not in the same direct way as it affected Farmer Joe’s health (a hay bale to the head isn’t exactly a conventional risk). More common effects include things like:

  • Losing sleep
  • Eating poorly because you don’t have time to prepare healthy meals
  • Not having time to exercise
  • High blood pressure
  • Strain on the heart
  • Nervous breakdowns
  • Burnout
  • The list goes on.

It affects our relationships

An imbalanced life often means we don’t get to spend much time with our family and friends. The quality of what little time we do get to spend with our loved ones is often diminished, either because we’re so exhausted from our jobs or because our minds are preoccupied with work.

And when we need an outlet for all our pent up stress and anger, it’s usually the people closest to us who get the brunt of it.

Although to be fair, Nicholas and I certainly deserved to be yelled at after Farmer Joe got smoked in the head.

It affects our overall happiness

Trust me: Farmer Joe was very unhappy after the blow to his head. When we’re buried in work, it tends to be our hobbies and pastimes that are the first things we sacrifice. We also don’t have time for things like inner reflection, personal growth or to pursue our passions or creative interests.

Non-Work Hay Bales

The hay bales of our job aren’t the only usurpers of time and energy that are stymieing our attempts at greater life balance. How we spend the rest of our time plays into it as well. It could be that you’re:

  • Watching too much TV/spending too much time online
  • Commuting long distances because you chose to live far from work
  • Taking on too many extracurricular activities
  • Spending money on things you really don’t need (which in turn may make it necessary for you to work such long hours at a job you don’t particularly enjoy).

Taking Action

appleBalance is more than just how much time you spend at work and at home. It’s about the quality of that time. It’s about living healthier, happier lives in line with the things we value most.

Making room for the things that matter most in life is a journey and no two paths are alike. What works for me may not be your cup of tea or even possible given your personal situation. But I do believe that no matter who you are or what your situation, there is something you can do to achieve greater life balance.

The first step is simply recognizing the fact that there are too many hay bales on your elevator. The second step is to make the decision to address the problem. Because god knows you can’t rely on muppets like Nicholas or I to save you from an incoming blow to the back of the head.

For more stories and practical tips, check out my books, “Simple(ton) Living: Lessons in balance from life’s absurd moments.” and “Balancing Priorities and Prioritizing Balance”. Click here to learn more and to purchase a copy.

And feel free to share your own advice and tips on life balance in the comment section below!

Got a lesson you learned from one of life’s memorable moments that you want to share? Email your story to Josh.

Josh Martin
Josh Martin is the creative force behind Badge of Awesome. He is the author of "Misadventure Musings: Lessons learned from life's awesome and absurd moments" and "The Overcoming Obstacles Handbook."

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