In Part 1 of this series, Jenn Colby described her drive to farm, how hard she worked to make a go of it on a tight budget, the business plan that told her, don’t quit your day job and maybe get a better paying job so you can afford your farming dream, and how that led her to grad school AND 4 foundation ewes for the farm she dreamed of. In Part 2 she describes how thinking about things in a new way helped her and her husband get together on the farm dream to move forward.
The benefit of doing graduate school part time over many years is that you have the chance to read and absorb and reflect, and test in real life, the things that you’ve been reading about. As it happened, it was in the latter part of my five years, deep into writing my thesis, when I came across two books that changed my life by changing my thinking. When your thinking is different, you make different choices, which lead you down different paths, and to new places.
These two books aren’t a prescription for the end-all, be-all right books for everyone. They weren’t even farming books. My thesis topic focused on measuring success, satisfaction and net profit in Vermont grass-based livestock farmers, so I was investigating what contributed to helping people be successful. The first was Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. In Outliers, Gladwell touched on the importance of gaining expertise through 10,000 hours of practice (in anything) to become really good at it; how people have actually been in the right place at the right time to be successful because of particular circumstances; and how a single opportunity seized can become the stepping stone to a cascade of additional experiences and options. I then read The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. I know The Secret has been criticized for its commercialism, its references to quantum physics, and its focus on the power of positive thinking. But I read it with the open yet practical mind of a science-based person. And, surprisingly, I found more than a few concepts in it that resonated with my life, and tangible examples of how my past thinking had been holding me back.
Some things that shifted for me because of my reading:
One, “don’t wish for a different situation without taking action to make it be different.” I had been trucking along in my current farm situation with limited acreage, an aging house, and a partner who didn’t see his role in what I wanted to do. Part of that was the lack of money (hence the grad school), but when school was done and my salary increased, it would be time to take farm action. Some action had been underway (my 10,000 hours, and being in a supportive job), but those were laying the groundwork for future changes. They were steps toward making things different, but more steps had to be taken.
Two, “have faith in moving forward, even if the path isn’t clear.” We didn’t know how we were going to get from Point A to Point B. Lack of seeing the path had stopped us from even trying over a ten-year period. It was a choice and a big shift to choose faith when looking at the unknown. This faith was less about a higher power, and more about the knowledge in our core that we would find our home and it would be worth it. We came back to that core faith over and over. We can’t always control what happens, but we can control how we handle it. Faith is a choice.
Three, “focus on the things we want, make room for them, and consistently choose them.” Many approaches, including Holistic Management, The Secret, and Dale Carnegie all advocate writing a list of the things you want. Whether the list is used for “positive attraction,” articulating goals, or simply as a decision-making reference tool, the method works. For us, there key moments where that list became essential.
Four, “energy flows where attention goes.” When we turn our attention to making a thing happen, it often does. When we are distracted by other things, movement slows or even stops. As it turned out, realizing the truth of this statement has become key to our approach to life. It’s OK to slow down, but choosing whether to slow or speed up things can make all the difference.
Five, “be grateful and be observant.” This is a short but packed statement that boils down to understanding that many blessings happen, even the ones that don’t seem like blessings at the time (see Part 1). Finding that one thing to be grateful for every day can be the difference between continuing to find faith to move forward, or giving up.
Now that our brains were full of spiffy new attitude, what did we do? We took the first step. We talked about the pros and cons of staying in our current house and fixing it up, versus trying to find a new place. There was enough money to fix the house, but we agreed that it wasn’t where we wanted to spend the next twenty years. We started looking around at places for sale online. Even if we had no idea how we would actually buy a new place, we still wanted to take action. The first farm we explored was too expensive for what it offered for us. The owners of the second farm decided they weren’t ready to sell. Even though we hadn’t yet found the right place, we wanted to keep the momentum this time around. We decided to sell our house enabling us to be more nimble when the right farm became available.
We found a little rental house in the village where we could bring our sheep. The village rental represented a turning point in the farm, too. I invested in new fence and managed an invasive-species grazing project on public land in partnership with the Town. I spent several summers balancing land recovery goals with production goals, and made some genetic investments and culling choices around this intersection. We became a popular stop for the neighborhood walkers of all ages and I spent a lot of time doing impromptu Extension livestock outreach. New-found time and high speed internet allowed us to start a web site and social media presence and build supporters. All of this turned out to be valuable experience that we could include in business plans later when we applied for farm loans.