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It’s Okay to Change Course

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Brown shoes standing at the cross road making decision which way to go. Three ways to choose

Here’s another presentation for Week 2 of On Pasture’s Virtual Conference.

I learned something three decades ago that has served me well whenever I wonder, “It is ok to change course?”

I was in therapy trying to heal from Post Traumatic Stress as a result of a wildland fire I’d been involved in and I was reluctant to make a needed change because I’d said I was going to do a certain thing and I thought I still needed to do it. After all, I’ve always prided myself on being the kind of person who does what she says she’ll do.

So I was presented with a situation: “What if you’re doing something, and then you gain new knowledge that says a different route is better? Should you keep on doing the old thing? Or should you use your new wisdom to make a better choice?”

That context is important as you’re developing your vision or seeing where you want to go. Jenn Colby illustrates that idea incredibly well in this short presentation about how she very recently discovered her purpose – the place that she’s been trying to go all this time.

Since we heard from Jenn earlier in this Virtual Conference about developing a vision, I thought it would be very helpful to see how she’s continued to evolve. It resonated with me, and I think you’ll find it helpful too. You can watch it below, read the transcript, or listen to it here as an episode on Jenn’s podcast, “Choosing to Farm.” Jenn’s podcast is also a great place to learn from farmers and ranchers doing just what you’re doing. You can find all the episodes here.

Jenn Colby Finds Her Purpose

Transcript

Introduction: I am Kristyn Achilich I’m the director of the center for the environment at St Michael’s College and I’ve been here for the last 12 years or so. I’m on steering committee this year and I have the absolute privilege to introduce a friend and longtime colleague Jen. Jen Colby is a farmer, podcaster and agricultural storyteller in Randall, Vermont. Jen’s story is about how someone reinvents themselves after their dream career ends Jen will share with us how, after 20 plus years of working for agricultural for-profits and academic institutions figured out how she wanted to show up in the world as herself.

Jenn Colby: 10 p.m. Friday, February 26th, 2021 I closed the laptop lid on my extension career and a major part of my identity over more than 25 years working with livestock farmers in for-profit nonprofit and extension roles.

Snick.

I felt heartbroken, I felt exhausted, I felt burned out and I felt grief. After 25 years of working with grazers in so many different ways I firmly believed that more good grazers on the land can save the world and I still believe that. That part hasn’t changed.

Immediately I jumped into growing into my new identity as a full-time farmer and business owner. I was already part of a group of Vermont livestock farmers who participated in Ranching for Profit School and in the followup EL (Executive Leadership) board program and without my day job to limit my abilities I cranked up my businesses. and I started so many projects and I ran way too many Enterprises: on Farm events, five-course barbecue dinners, farm tours, pigs marketed in three or four different ways, sheep with daily pasture moves. I added goats. Why did I add goats to the sheep?! Finishing a yurt to start hosting farm stays, starting a Tentrr campsite, working on an off-Farm rental house. And at the height of all of this I even had the bright idea to start a podcast. Because if you don’t know what you’re doing with your life you should totally start a podcast, right?

So back in my extension days I always felt like a secret weapon that I brought to my work was that I was the audience that I served. what I most often felt as a returning generation pulled back into farming after two generations away, was that I was alone in having to figure everything out for myself. I didn’t have a family to rely on who had taught me all of the things that multi-generational farmers have. And what I didn’t know was that I was just one of many people coming back or being called into livestock farming for the first time in recent memory. I was entranced by these origin stories of marketing graduates in cubicles coming back to Family Farms, to dairy in Vermont. Abby Course if you are in the house you are an inspiration to me. Or lawyers leaving their practices in Boseman Montana to go raise bison – true story! You should listen to Choosing to Farm podcast. It’s right there. I’m still in love with how every single one of these voices is unique. And at the same time it connects us all together in this lived experience of livestock agriculture.

And I could not foresee the transformation that starting a podcast would have. From stepping out to put my face on things – that’s weird. To use my voice to share my experiences and my opinions. If you know anything about extension, we don’t have opinions we serve you all. That’s what we do. To the realizations that I would have about myself and by extension (small E) my agricultural friends and Community.

Starting a podcast shook my foundations.

…April 2022 I have my eyes closed I am part of an online Retreat. My feet are on the floor, my hands are resting calmly in my lap and we’re going through a guided visualization on our life’s purpose. And my eyes snap open! And with these shaking fingers I write down:

“My life’s purpose is healing agriculture’s relationship with success.”

And think about it. Isn’t that a thing that we joke about? How do you make a million dollars in farming? You start with two. It’s like the unwritten joke that’s not funny and we all say. Don’t we assume that farmers have to work hard harder than anybody and be poor? We have to assume that we’re poor farmers. And we never get to our kids baseball games. And maybe we lose our spouses because they just can’t hack the lifestyle. That that lifestyle is more important and feeding the world is more important than whether our family ever takes a vacation or if we have enough money for a working car.

I would argue that our culture of Agriculture has a broken view of what success is and I’ve lived that as much as anybody. So my viewpoint shifted into a belief that healing agriculture’s relationship with success will save the world.

So I enrolled in a coaching certification program to teach success principles, bring them into agriculture. I had attended a success principal seminar five years before and I have this headset on and Mike’s voice is in my ear and he is talking to me from Florida where he taught our RIM introduction class that my husband Chris and I took, and in my imagination I see a high school memory about a report card and my Mom’s reaction to that report card. That one memory was at the core of 35 years of not feeling like enough. And not feeling like enough can be a very cruel driver of the things that we do.

In the past months through work with several RIM facilitators, including my husband Chris who has left his 20-plus year career to become a RIM facilitator, I’ve let go of limiting beliefs and traumas that I’ve held. Like the harder I work the more I am of value and then if I don’t work hard I don’t have value. That I need to do everything myself by myself or asking for help means that I’m weak. The desperate need to be accepted or liked by 100% of the people in the room. If I had not left that let that down I would never have offered to share my story. I couldn’t let myself share my story. The need to make other people happy, the responsibility for other people’s life choices, I let that go. The inability to create boundaries around my own needs versus serving other people. Not charging enough for my time and my expertise and all the things that I have to give. And never ever being enough. I’m still working on that not enough thing.

How many of us have felt at least one of those things at least one time in our lives? You don’t have to raise your hands. I know every single one of you has because we’re human beings and we have. And I needed to reveal and dissolve so many of my own root traumas to realize how hurt that most of us aspect of what we do.

As indigenous musician, artist, and farmer Robert Mirabal said recently at a concert in Randolph, “When we heal one person, just one, we heal all people.”

And what I’ve realized is that spending the next phase of my life dedicated to helping farmers, and ranchers, and other people serving agriculture heal our relationships with ourselves is my life’s purpose. Because this is our greatest barrier to success. And what I know is that helping our agricultural Community heal and become whole, helping us set down long-held burdens, it will save the world one person at a time.