Archive for October 2013

What we can learn from cows to prevent burnout

A few months ago I visited Polyface Farm in southern Virginia. Polyface is a family-owned, sustainable farm and its owner, Joel Salatin provides a lot of education on what it takes to bring a farm to its full potential.

During the two-day seminar, we talked a lot about letting animals do more of what they want to do and I learned a bit more about the natural tendencies of my cattle. It turns out that cows have a genetic predisposition to turn right. They’re also prone to following light, going from dark spaces to those they can see better.

So I figured out some ways I can reconfigure my barns and cattle chutes to put my cows more at ease and stop them from fighting with me so much.

And that got me thinking about the quote “There’s no mission without margin.” By giving my cows more freedom, more margin, to do what they are prone to do, it helps me complete whatever mission I’ve set out to do involving them.

Everyone needs some wiggle-room to succeed. We need a little bit of freedom to get things done, even when it feels like we should be filling up our lives to every corner.

Those 80-hour work weeks may seem like they’re necessary to get everything done, but   work without rest and time to play results in diminishing returns and the second set of 40 hours doesn’t produce nearly the quality and effectiveness of work as the first half.

We need margin – room to breath and, like my cows, we need to feel like we’re not being forced down an unyielding path or our minds and bodies start fighting back, even if we don’t intend to.

Giving ourselves a little more freedom and learning more about our natural tendencies can prevent burnout and make our lives better in general. So the next time you think about putting on your blinders and powering through a long work week, it might be worthwhile to pause and ask, “Do I need more margin to complete this mission?”

Are you constantly looking for greener pastures?

One of the things I love about my farm is all the life lessons that play out in front of me when I’m there. A few days back, my horses and cows gave me a great reminder of where the saying “The grass is always greener on the other side,” came from.

I had forgotten to turn on the electric fence that separates my horses and cattle and walked out to discover that they had completely swapped places – the cows were in the horse pasture and the horses were in the cow pasture.

They were all staring at each other and I just imagined them saying “See, I told you it was better over here.”

In reality, the pastures were identical. There was nothing that benefited either of the animals from crossing over. They only wanted to swap places because the electric fence had kept them from doing it before.

It was a funny scene, and while not profound, it’s little displays like this that help me keep my life in perspective.

We always want what we don’t have and when we eventually get “it”, we usually find out that “it” isn’t as great as we thought it would be and comes with a whole set of new problems. Then we’re right back at it, looking for something better.

Instead of appreciating what we have and respecting what’s been given to us, we compare against our neighbors. “Why can’t my kids be more like Bob’s kids? They’re all easy-going and vanilla ice cream. Mine are trouble, they’re rocky road.”

We see that Bob’s got a bigger house and a more expensive car. But rarely do we pair that with the fact that Bob also has a higher mortgage and car payment. We only think of the good, which always looks better than the more realistic good and bad of what we already have.

My animals continually remind me of little lessons like this and help keep me grounded in reality. What do you use in your life to keep you from chasing after greener pastures?