The Recovering Farmer

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The 90/10 Rule

I am getting ready for another support group meeting. We will be focusing on stress management. I suspect some will question the necessity of covering that topic, again. It is good to have refreshers. It is good to be reminded. I need to utilize stress management tools on a regular basis. A large part of stress management is recognition. The better we are at recognizing stress overload, the sooner we realize that our life is out of balance, the sooner we recognize that our emotions are not right, the sooner we can deal with it and regain a sense of control, a sense of balance, a sense of peace.

Each time I prepare for this topic I find myself looking at how stress affects us physically, emotionally, socially, and mentally. I suspect many of us can relate to headaches, fatigue, anxiety, frustration, a lack of perspective, loneliness, and confusion. These are but a few of the signs of stress. Often times we will dismiss aches and pains as something that just happens. I often find myself saying its age related. How often do we find our emotional gas tanks empty? We need to work on whatever it takes to keep “gas in the tank”.

I discovered a new way to deal with physical aches and pains. Due to a lot of physical work I have done lately, I was experiencing intense muscle aches. Sure, I can deal with the aches and pains. But what I find difficult to accept is when my golf game suffers. I was finding that I could not swing a golf club normally. Not good. It was becoming increasingly frustrating. Couldn’t keep away from the double bogies. I finally let my wife make an appointment for a deep muscle massage. Not sure whether the massage left me feeling better because it actually works or whether it hurt so bad it was a relief when it was done. Interesting, to say the least. But, I survived. That same evening I played a round of golf. Right from the outset I noticed that my swing seemed to be much more fluid. Perhaps there is hope. But I digress.

What really hits home is when I see how behaviors change when stress is experienced. We become reckless. We become verbally abusive. We have unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others. There are more and more idiots on the road. Wait a minute. That is just my road rage kicking in again. I do notice, however, that when I am feeling stressed, feeling under pressure or upset with something going on in my life my tolerance level goes way down. I really need to keep watch over that.

Stephen Covey writes an interesting piece on the 90/10 rule. His thought is that only 10% of life is made up of what happens to us. The other 90% of life is decided by how we react. Really? Think about it. It makes sense. He uses an example. You are eating breakfast with your family. One of the kids is careless and spills juice on your shirt. You have no control over that event. What happens next will be determined by how you react. You get angry. You yell. You upset the family. Causes stress in everyone else whose agendas for the day get messed up because of that one incident. Your kid misses the bus. You are late for work. Nobody can do anything right. In short, the day is a disaster. Imagine now if you had responded in a gentle manner. Accidents do happen. Life could have been much easier. In essence, approximately five seconds of your life dictated the rest of the day.

Sounds like stress to me. So the 90/10 principle is simple. It is a matter of practising it. Just remember, it is not the event but rather our reaction to the event that causes stress. It could change your life. Take it one day at a time. Make it a good one.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

When The Mind Goes Blank

Since the start of this blogging project I occasionally run into a time when I can think of little that seems interesting. Not sure what that is a sign of. Does that mean that life is boring? Or does it mean that my mental state is not where it should be? I really don’t think it is either one. I have lots going on. Both with a house project and also work wise. So I should be able to write something. But it just is not happening. On occasion I will ask friends or colleagues for topic suggestions. Sometimes that works, other times not so well. One of my faithful followers sent me an email yesterday telling me that my blog needed to be updated. In other words, post a new one. Something fresh. I responded by asking him for a topic. He gave me an idea. Something I have pondered over the last few weeks.

Do you find yourself hurrying through life? Do you find your main goal to be making money? Worrying about whether there will be enough for retirement? Do you take time for yourself? For your family? What do you enjoy about life? How do we establish what is important in life? How do we set priorities? Good questions.

From young on we are programed to give our all. We look forward eagerly to starting school. We want to turn sixteen so we can drive. We anticipate graduation. We jump into college. We are taught that to be successful we need to work hard. We strive to climb the ladder. To reach the top. We have a family. We have to work harder to provide. Retirement is within sight. Will we have enough money? We work a little harder. Earn more. Our parents and siblings are getting older. But we don’t have time for them. We have things to do. Maybe someday. And then we die.

I am reminded of the song Cat’s In The Cradle. A song made famous in 1974. It’s a beautiful song. I have always enjoyed it. Take the time to listen to the lyrics. Tells a sad story. It’s the story of a father who is too busy to take the time to play with his son. To take part in family activities. And as the boy grows up he models his life after his father’s. “I’m gonna be like him, yeah, you know I’m gonna be like him”. Then the son leaves home, the father grows old and wants the son to come for a visit. However, now the son is too busy. A sad story indeed.

Ever notice that when people have life changing events happen in their lives their perspective on life changes. I deal with people who have been involved in traumatic car accidents. People who have faced and experienced financial ruin. I have friends who have lost loved ones. Friends who have and keep struggling through health challenges. What used to be important no longer is. And what has become more important never was.

STOP. Take a moment to think. Is what you are consumed with today going to matter tomorrow, next week, next year or when you are old? Take a moment to visualize your life when you get to be seventy or eighty years old. What do you think will be your biggest regret? Not enough time with family? I could have left that work and enjoyed more golf? We should have taken that trip? Why did we not spend money on that? Now live the rest of your life accordingly. I refer, again, to my wall hanging that says, “The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it”. Make life changes before life changes. Make it a good one.

Friday, May 4, 2012

When Is Enough, Enough?

After a somewhat less then stressful day I sat back and watched local news. I saw something that saddened me to no end. It shook me. A story that began in the last year but seemingly does not end. The story of a little boy, his sister, a family and tragedy. It made me wonder. When is enough, enough? How much can one person, one couple, one family possibly bear?

The story began when a two year old boy was diagnosed with leukemia. A thought that sends fear through all of us. How is that fair? How can that happen? But, as we all know, it does happen. It started a battle. A battle against an unknown enemy. A battle that can be won but far too often is lost. The parents had the courage. They had the love. They were going to make it happen. They pulled up their family and moved from Northwestern Manitoba to live near the hospital in Winnipeg. They began the treatment that comes with cancer. They had hope. The little guy fought hard. It appeared that they were winning. Then right around Christmas they got the news they had hoped they would not hear. Little Larsen had a relapse. Like a knockout punch, it sent the parents reeling.

I spent some time in talking to the father in January. I had just finished a presentation on stress management. Already I could tell that he was utilizing many of the tools I had just presented on. But, I felt helpless. How could I possibly help someone that had experienced so much. Much more then I could possibly fathom. I felt inadequate. I let him talk. I listened. It was obviously a difficult time for them. As we went our separate ways I commended him for talking. I challenged him to keep talking, to find his supports. I wished him well.

Tonight, as I watched the news, I saw another chapter in the story unfold in this ongoing tale of sadness. Last week they found out that Larsen had relapsed, again. Another devastating blow. When is enough, enough? So they packed up and went back to Winnipeg. More time at the hospital. More tests. More pain. The good news, his sister is a perfect match for a bone marrow transplant. His sister is a few years older than him. Will she understand? What does she have to go through to do this? More unknowns. More fear. More anxiety. How does one ever explain this to kids so that it makes sense to them.

And if that is not enough. Shortly after their return trip to Winnipeg, the family found out that their house had burnt. A house that they had just built four years ago. Destroyed. All their belongings gone. A few pictures saved. When is enough, enough? On their Facebook page the mother says they are so thankful that no one was hurt in the fire. That their priority is to get Larsen cancer-free. In a press conference they talked about their situation in a very calm manner. Amazing resilience. Puts things into perspective.

So at the outset I asked a question. When is enough, enough? I didn’t answer the question because the more I try the more I am left to wonder. Lives have been changed and continue changing. This family has experienced so much. Makes me feel guilty for not feeling satisfied with life. Makes me feel thankful for what I have. Here is wishing the family all the best as their journey continues. Here is hoping that enough is enough. Here is hoping that they find ways to cope, to survive, to face another day. To cope as individuals, as parents, as a brother, as a sister. And most of all I hope for a recovery for little Larsen.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Surviving Stress

Farming, as we know it, has been around since the beginning of time. Over the ages it has evolved to what we see today. From small backyard hobby farms to family farms to corporations. From single, specialized operations to large diversified, multi commodity enterprises. Many of these operations have been successful and continue to thrive in today’s environment. Success, in many cases, has been measured by the ability of farmers to adapt to all sorts of demands coming forward from consumers, society and government. What farmers have had difficulty adapting to have been circumstances outside of their control. BSE in cattle, excessive moisture in consecutive years, collapse of livestock prices, volatility of exchange rates, to name but a few. So, in spite of success stories, stress has become a major part of a famer’s everyday life.

The World Health Organization lists farming as one of the most stressful occupations and is surpassed only by Mining in terms of suicide rates. In 2005 CASA (Canadian Agricultural Safety Association) surveyed 1100 farmers. Of those surveyed, two thirds described themselves as being “very stressed”. Commodity prices ranked first in creating the most stress. Although finances came second there are a host of other issues that cause stress. They include, but are not limited to, input costs, government policies, weather, workload, relationships, and uncertain markets.

I have always struggled with adapting to new technology. Whether its cell phones, computers, or ATMs, I tend to be one of the last to utilize technology that is actually supposed to simplify my life. How often as farmers do we go through the same fear and frustrations? Each year we are bombarded by offers of new technology. Technology that will increase production, decrease input costs, increase growth rates, decrease dockage, and the list goes on. The key is for all of us to try and decide what will pay and what will not. As economic challenges come our way we are left to make decisions that are difficult at best. Always second guessing, always wondering. It is downright stressful. It used to be said that “anyone could farm, that all that was necessary was a weak mind and a strong back, but nowadays to be a successful farmer a person must have a good head and a wide education in order to handle all the advice ladled out by city folk, government people and others and to select for use that which will do them the least damage.”

Second guessing becomes one of our worst enemies. Not only in making decisions about what to buy, farmers daily make a host of other decisions. Marketing the commodity grown on your farm has become very important as markets become more and more volatile and margins tighter. Unless we hit the top of the market we also second guess what we did. I remember when forward contracting became available to hog producers. The first year I used the program I “locked in” some good prices. Then foot and mouth hit the Taiwanese hog herd and my locked in prices looked terrible. The following year I locked in my hog price and then barley prices hit record highs. Got to the point where I was “spooked” and could not make a right decision. It becomes very easy to forget the age old adage that you never go broke locking in a profit. Never mind the fact that partners, neighbors and even the banker are watching. Making a wrong decision can impact relationships as the bottom line becomes ever more important.

Speaking of relationships, stress can wreak havoc on any relationship, whether with partners, family, businesses you deal with and even the community you are part of. Maintaining relationships is a challenge when our minds are consumed with weather, commodity prices, breakdowns and all the other “stuff” that hits us on a daily basis. When stress hit me and I found myself in that “foggy middle” I would ignore people around me. I would disappear to the barn and work. Imagine, a hog barn becoming a refuge and yet that is exactly what happens. Why? No phones, no creditors, no parental responsibilities, and the list goes on. And the more I tried to immerse myself in work the more the relationships would suffer. What a vicious circle. And yet relationships provide us with identity, purpose and direction.

How can we not only maintain relationships but also improve relationships when we face the stress of farming on a daily basis. We live and work in a world that is fast paced and ever changing. We hear more and more about “burn out”. We give till we have nothing left to give. Our emotional gas tanks are empty. And yet the demands on us keep coming. How can we cope? How do we avoid slipping into that dark abyss? How do we get out from the dark cloud hanging over us? How do we find balance in a topsy turvy world?

Take the time to play, to laugh, and most of all to talk. You know that kids laugh up to four hundred times a day and when we become adults that drops to twelve laughs a day. Something as simple as chatting with the person filling you gas tank or the person bagging your groceries, will help in lifting your spirits. Look for and discover your supports. They may be your partner, a neighbor, your clergy, a friend, or may be your doctor. I recall a neighbor dropping by my barn when I was going through a difficult time. When he asked how I was doing my initial response was the usual “doing okay”. Then I realized I had an opportunity to talk so I poured out my soul. It felt so enlightening to be able to verbalize a lot of the stuff going on inside of me. He did not need to provide any advice or answers. Rather he validated and normalized my feelings. Take advantage of your supports. You may be surprised at the renewed energy you have, at least for one more day.

Meeting the challenges one day at a time is a good approach to stress management. Some time ago I came across an article that challenged us to live one day at a time. It challenged the reader to NOT worry about two days of the week. One of those being yesterday, and the other tomorrow. It went on to say that what had happened yesterday could not be undone and we could not erase a single thing that had been said or done. The article also stated tomorrow is outside of our control. We can only assume what may happen and based on my experience I always assume the worst rather than the best. The only sure thing about tomorrow is that the sun will rise and set. The article suggested that “it is not the experiences of today that drive people mad – it is the remorse or bitterness for something which happened yesterday and the dread of what tomorrow will bring”.

I have mentioned but a few of the stressors that you may feel or experience. And as the stress mounts one stress can lead to and build on another. Stress management is key for, not only survival, but for enhancement of life in general. Klinic Community Health has some good ideas on a website at . They refer to music, nature, humor and others as tools to help one deal with the anxieties of life. There are other resources available as well. Many areas have Stress lines or Crisis lines. Avail yourself of the resources around you. I recall a picture my daughter made for me when she was quite young. It simply said “The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon but that we wait so long to begin it”. Make it a good one.