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Women in Ag: Making Progress

Facebook has been my inspiration for this week’s blog. It
started when the question was asked on the Women In Agriculture page, “How do
we do what we do?” It was in reference to all the farm women who wear several
hats during the day. The responses were just fantastic as everyone chipped in about
their duties from those who are stay at home mom’s helping on the farm to those
who do farm chores and work off the farm as well. Quite a few women were the
primary operators of the farm and caretakers of the home. I too had jumped in
and shared a glimpse of my schedule and how I pull it off but it was not a
great response, just a quick, “Me too!” type of thing. Still after I posted it,
I started thinking more about what I do, how it gets done and why I choose to
live the way I do.

Fast forward to the last 24 hours and a good friend of mine
put up a post, a saying that she felt we could all relate to, “Strive for
progress, not perfection.”  There was no
doubt in my mind that she was right, we can all probably relate to that statement.  Not a day goes by that I don’t struggle with
something not being done to the standard I expect or I think others expect from
me. That ideal of perfection in our home lives, farming, parenting and even our
hobbies is a driving force but perhaps is it also a detriment to reaching the
final goal.

I pondered that thought yesterday morning as I drove to
visit one of my further clients. I thought about how the drive for perfection
was affecting my lifestyle, my daughter, my marriage, my dog sledding and my
work. I don’t think that I will ever reach perfection in any one of those
arenas yet when things fall apart in them it can send me reeling with
frustration, confusion and even at times, guilt. As I shared with my last blog,
I am a huge proponent of always doing your best no matter what, I still think
that but doing your best doesn’t have to mean making life miserable.  I went through my daily duties and found areas
that I think I can make my life less stressful and still make the progress
necessary to reach my goals.

Farming
Our farm is in the midst of the transition from one
generation to the next as many of you have dealt with or are going through as
well. My hubby and I work hard to make improvements in profitability through
changes in management of the cattle and crops, improving genetics, finding
creative ways to get things done with shrinking margins and increasing efficiency.
It all takes a lot of time and effort on our parts as well as my in laws. There
is no silver bullet in any segment of it yet we find ourselves frustrated when
we don’t get that perfect response, that instant gratification. There were
changes that made that happen and now as we tweak things and sit in a holding
pattern for other adjustments to come to fruition I think we have to go back and
look at the progress we have made. We have DHI tests from 3 years ago- I really
should pull those out and sit down with him to see where we were and where we
are heading. It’s a great reminder that we have made significant progress in
reaching some goals and that we are on the right path to reaching more. It is
also a good reminder that there is not perfection in what we do- the target is
always moving and a vast majority of our performance results are at the mercy
of things we cannot control like the weather.

Work
Eighteen months ago I joined a former college classmate and good
friend in an independent consulting business. We have these fantastic dreams of
being the best of the best and making a splash in everything we do related to
our group. In all honesty I think we’ve done a phenomenal job of doing just
that. We’ve developed a great reputation as really good consultants and we have
some fantastic clients who make it easy to do our jobs. However, as consultants
in a highly competitive field we are constantly challenged by others in the
field as well as our producers to do and be more and think farther
outside of the box. Again, that target is always moving and often at a high
rate of speed. It’s time we take a break from that search for being the perfect
consultant, the most reliable, most transparent and best at what we do to focus
on where we are heading and how by doing what we are good at we’ve helped not
only our clients progress but our business as well. The exciting and rewarding
days will again outweigh the frustrating and challenging ones if we take the
time to note our progress.

Home Life
This is the trap I think we all get stuck in as the Women of
Agriculture. We’ve found our niches on the farm and/or in our off farm jobs so
coming home to be a Mom, Wife, Chef, and Maid really isn’t something most of us
look forward too. I know I don’t- yet I am often inundated with grand stories
of the farm wife who milked the cows twice a day, worked off the farm for 40-50
hours a week and had perfectly bathed, well-mannered children who lived in a
spotless house. Quite honestly my usual internal conversation is, “And you
walked up hill both ways to school, barefoot through the snow too, right?” The
reality of the situation is I know without a doubt that women of past
generations busted their rears to be helpful to their husbands, raise their
families and many worked hard off the farm as well. What I do believe has changed
is their roles in some of those areas. I know many a farm wife who milked cows
and drove tractors 30 years ago  but she
didn’t have to worry about the management of the cattle or the agronomy needs
of the farm. That was her husband’s job- his wife was his labor as needed. She
did a fantastic job at it but once the job was done she went back to taking
care of the kids and doing what else needed to be done. She could make the home life her focus. These days we are
seeing a tremendous increase in operations that are single-handedly run by women
or in full joint partnership between spouses. How many of you spend your
dinners no longer hearing about your husband's day on the farm but now planning on how both your efforts will result in a 3:1 return on investment? It’s a conversation we
have regularly had here. I do a lot of work with the cow performance and
management while he does a lot with the agronomy, equipment and animal
husbandry. We cover a lot of ground that way and give each other a chance to
focus on what we do well all while providing a benefit to the farm.

The same trends have been in place within the off farm
employment for decades. Women are no longer just secretaries, cashiers, or bank
tellers. They are owners and managers who have more responsibility in more time
consuming roles. For many women who are in these type of roles the work day
does not end when you punch the clock. I know for me it sure doesn’t! I spend
the vast majority of my days on the road visiting my clients’ farms. I collect
information, talk to a lot of people, put on more miles to do it again and come
home to put it all together. If I am lucky I have 45 minutes before evening
chores to start that process. If my hubby is caught up he will try to make it possible
for me to get into the house a little earlier so I can keep working on it.
Many of my evenings after dinner and after our daughter is in bed are spent in
front of the computer, formulating rations, writing up reports and SOPs or
following up on the necessary paper work to run my business. My job is not 9-5
and is far from Monday through Friday.

So where does that leave things like cooking, dishes,
laundry and hobbies? That is where you truly need to look for progress not
perfection. Dinners are crockpot based in our house because as much as I’d like
to provide a three course meal for my family on fine china it isn’t going to
happen. But are we well fed, healthy and happy? Absolutely! The dishes do pile
up but my goal is not to be 100% spotless with clean dishes 24/7, to me it’s
important that if my daughter needs a glass or a spoon there is always a clean
one. It may come out of the dishwasher but she will find what she needs.
Laundry is the other battle, as much as I would love to be that wife/maid who
does laundry daily it never happens. It is a weekly chore here which means
there is a lot of folding to be done all at once. So we find ourselves looking
for clean socks in the laundry room clean clothes basket as Mom catches up.
Again, we’re in clean clothes, never without and always available. Is it perfection?
Hardly, but its progress and I will catch up on the next rainy Saturday, I
promise.  

The many things that we all do in a day, week and month are
daunting, frustrating, rewarding and exciting, often all at once. I am
personally going to, “Strive for progress, not perfection” more in my life so
that I can enjoy the roller coaster ride, maybe find a few extra minutes for
more hugs from my daughter, more one on one time with my hubby and occasionally
a chance to sit back, take a deep breath and relax just a bit more. Being
perfect sounds great but I don’t think it’s all it is cracked up to be. 

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