No Endgame

Jemma McIntosh

no endgame

  • Words Chris Fatseas
  • Photographs Jemma McIntosh
No Endgame

No Endgame

Jemma McIntosh discovered a whole new life when she exchanged work on one farm or another for food, shelter, and a picturesque view of the New Zealand countryside. Leaving behind the traditional world, she found one in which she couldn’t feel more fulfilled.

Growing up in Australia, Jemma had followed a conventional path. But in her early twenties, she felt an urge to press reset; to escape the habitual lifestyle of modern society and give back to others in some way. When she discovered Help Exchange – a program that connects travelers with farms, hostels, boats, and other places where they exchange work for short-term stay – she found the escape she craved. Her life quickly transitioned from one of tangible goals to one of living in the moment. She learned firsthand a wide variety of outdoor work; from that work, she found a gateway to a more natural way of life lived at a gentler pace. What started as a drive to “give back” through volunteering transitioned into a deep love of New Zealand farming: “I realized this is somewhere I could see myself living,” she shares. “It made me want to slow down — it wasn’t about a holiday anymore.”

Now a paid employee in the Hundalee Hills of New Zealand’s South Island, Jemma works at a sheep farm on a grassy Conway Flat surrounded by chirping birds. The smell of fresh clover mingles with the pungent waft of manure. The scene invokes sensations of a crisp breeze blowing across the skin while the sun sets beyond the mountains: a million dollar view straight from a Hollywood film.

But it’s not all sunsets and sweet animals.

In her former life, Jemma primarily followed a vegetarian diet. Today, she has never felt happier skinning sheep and eating lamb. At first this seems like a contradiction: surely moving to the countryside and reconnecting with nature would only increase one’s vegetarian tendencies? But after witnessing sheep living naturally and wildly in the hills and their death being served with compassion and respect, her awareness shifted. And it’s helped her grow a greater understanding of life’s interconnectedness, too.

“What did I just take away from this animal?” she ponders of where the soul goes after the slaughter. “Whatever it was is gone, but where has it gone? Everything I see is still here, but the soul is not in that body anymore. It makes you realize that everything that’s alive is somehow all connected, and it never goes anywhere — it just transforms into something else.”

No Endgame

Before HelpX, Jemma could not have imagined that this particular life would make her happy. But she always suspected deep down that there was more out there for her than the rigid pathway so often prescribed as “best practice” for modern life: more to learn, more ways in which to grow, more experiences to live, more to see, and less “expected” things she truly wanted to do.

“I had no idea that weighing wool or skinning a sheep would make me happy,” she shares of a recent revelation in a wool shed. “That will continue if I let go of control; if I let go of how I think my life is meant to be. As soon as you let that go, opportunities come your way.”




Self-awareness and confidence in her life choices haven’t brought immediate praise from others. Friends and acquaintances question her lifestyle, and ask when she’ll give it up for a “real job” again. They throw doubt on her support system, wondering what her parents must think of her income-free life. But Jemma not only praises her parents for their support in her adventures, she believes her revived outlook has inspired them to rethink their own lives as well. “Why do we have three houses? Why are we working so hard to pay them off so we can retire one day?” she shares of their doubts. She in turn asks them, “What’s the point in planning for a retirement you may never get to enjoy? If you’re always looking forward, you never enjoy life now. The line keeps moving, but you never reach the goal.”

Jemma thanks the sheep for this newfound wisdom. She laughs while “cleaning shit off ram butts” on a Sunday because she’s genuinely happier wielding hot water and a brush than she’d be working in a café for cash.  She finds a ten-hour day weighing out heavy fleeces – “something that is so simple and does not require any intellect, done in a shed that reeks of ram piss” – full of purpose and meaning. The work fulfills her in ways her time back in Australia did not. “It was a weird process to go from working every day without pay to doing the exact same work but now getting money,” she notes of her shift from volunteer to employee. “But it is all part of the journey — to learn to accept when people want to give back, just as people accept when I want to give back to them. Always a perfect transfer!”

No Endgame

In enthusiastic defiance, Jemma gets up every morning to find out what the day will teach her about her own happiness. She describes life right now as if she’s watching it happen on a movie screen, where the most intimate and mundane moments become large and significant. The alternative farm lifestyle she has chosen fits her perfectly right now, so starkly different than the chaotic environment most accept as the norm. So she keeps her curious mind open and thrives in it. Maybe one day that will change. But today at least, she’s happy to take life as it comes, living moment by moment:

“You can choose to be distracted your whole life,” she ponders, taking in the view and ruminating on how far she’s come to land here. “Denying life and happiness doesn’t change existence; it doesn’t change truth. Being truthful to yourself and giving to yourself is powerful. It has the most powerful affect on everything around you. I find it amazing. I feel like I’m living a dream every day.”

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