Farm News

The Truth of our ‘Shoulds’

I received so much delightful feedback about my essay on the pitfalls of should, I thought I would share how questioning your ‘shoulds’ can have very practical impact on one’s life.  – AJ

Whether or not we should do anything is the question lying on the top layer of soil. It’s not really at the root of the matter. Should we do this particular thing? What I’ve learned through lots of wrong turns is that it’s best not to immediately bust out a pros and cons list. That will get exhausting all too quick. Instead, I find it most helpful to investigate what it is that is leading me to ask that question in the first place. For instance, behind the question of whether we should add beef cattle to the farm is some sort of motivation. In essence, the initial question itself is rather insubstantial. My job as a farmer who wishes to keep her farm afloat, and do so happily, is to uncover the impetus that is pushing the question. When I notice a question rise, is it because cows would improve the quality of the hay field with their manure? Or is it because they would keep it mowed so we wouldn’t have to use diesel and the tractor? Because it would mean we’d have to finally do something about that raggedy fence line that is falling into disrepair? Do we want cows because more than one person has asked us to sell beef? Or do we want cows for the value of their manure? Is a team of oxen calling to us? Maybe deep down we really just love the sound of cattle lowing or those huge glassy eyes reflecting some sort of calm out into the world.

Most always, I’ve been shocked to discover that the true reason I am motivated to want to do something may not have any relationship to how I justify the action.  For instance, I realized that when I thought: “we should replace that whole section of deer fence” it wasn’t really because we have deer eating everything in our fields. I’m shocked to realize that my underlying motivation is really about ego. I want our farm to look ‘neater.’ I want to impress everyone that comes down the lane. It has nothing to do with the practical workings of the farm. It’s all about how I want others to view me. Wow. That’s a devious buddy of an ego at work, right?

Whatever it is, uncovering the driving force, the energy so to speak, underneath the should question is a critical step. Of course, if there is only one reason, it’s a fairly straightforward analysis. Spreadsheets and estimates, calendars and labor budgets can be hammered out. You can more readily decide where to go from there. But things can get mucky when you discover there are multi-faceted reasons why. This is tough especially if the why is just a feeling or resonance you can’t quite put into words. In that case, it all comes down to how much effort and courage you have to get the shovel and really dig as deep as it takes for as long as it takes to bring to light the driving need that has sent its little sprouts of clues up into the sunshine.

You have to really look yourself in the mirror and ask again, “What am I trying to accomplish?” and to that end: “What is it I am willing to let go of?” Whatever it is, the determining the logic underneath the should question is a critical step for me. Otherwise, I end up tackling more than I need to, and life is harder than it needs to be.

Sometimes excavating motivation and intent isn’t as hard at all.  I recommend regular bouts of creativity. Weld, paint, build, sing, collage, sew, practice your cartwheels, bake… let your left brain rest and let your right brain play – however she or he joyful wants to.  Early in the morning, I make it a point to sit with pen, paper and myself.  On the page, I let myself wander wherever I feel like going, with no judgement, no critics, no fears on board.  If I’m thinking about a certain should, I will often gain the perspective I need to move forward with confidence and clarity.