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Farming: Woolshed Session with Doug Avery’s team

28 Aug 2018

Two days with Doug and Wendy Avery and their team in Blenheim, exploring resilient farming with a group of farmers? It was a no-brainer! After convincing my sceptical boss that it would be important professional development for me, I enrolled and was off.

Two weeks later I am still coming to grips with the event and its aftermath.

I’m not a farmer and I am not at the end of my tether, so why was I there? Good question. I do feel the need to develop personally, all the time, and I am interested in farmers and farming and I wanted to find out more about resilience. And I see Doug as a once-in-a-lifetime character that I didn’t want to miss out on.

I ended the two days tied and emotional. And I came away with some wonderful gifts.

Was it an important turning point for me in my life? It certainly can be, if I get off my chuff and do something about it. The time spent with Doug, Wendy, Russell and Cam had all the right ingredients for a life-altering moment. I have made contact with a bunch of good people who we are following up with and we all get to become a part of Doug and Wendy’s journey, which, to my amazement they have been on for the past 20 years. I couldn’t believe it when I heard that Doug and Wendy have been doing their thing for 20 years. The strength of that couple is incredible, and I stress that it is a couple. Doug’s yin to Wendy’s yang, or are they the other way round? Not sure.

What specifically did I learn?

Obviously, what goes on the Woolshed Sessions stays on the Woolshed Sessions, so without telling tales out of school, the thing that I learned more than anything else was to –

BUILD A RESILIENT SUPPORT NETWORK

Doug uses the metaphor of the ‘flying-V’. Do you remember the metaphor of migrating geese flying in a V-formation? See it here if you want a refresher. The ‘flying-V’, Doug calls it, is all about your role as a leader. As leaders we need to be out front in our business, on our farms, in our family but, who do we have back in our flying-V, honking us on, supporting us as we tire, willing to come up and take a turn in the lead role allowing us to fall back and get some well-earned rest and support?

In other words, who do we have supporting us at one end and mentoring us at the other? Who has our back? Who do we let in on our innermost thoughts and feelings?

We all have a leadership role, no matter where we are in life or in work, and this leadership role can be isolating. Some of us dismiss the pressures of leadership as ‘normal’ and we see tiredness as a weakness. We wonder why our zest for life disappears and then gradually we see it as normal and we end up living a life-less-enjoyable than it could be. We become vulnerable to set-back. It can become permanent, if we let it.

One thing I learned a long time ago is that the best time to set up my support network is when I am feeling strong. Then it is in place when the inevitable ‘down’ comes along. It is what we do on the peaks of life that set us up for the inevitable valleys that follow.

After some thought I decided my flying-V had been neglected and was in need of some bolstering-up and I am working on it. Watch this space. I might come calling.

Another one of Doug’s principles is -

FOCUS ON BUILDING THE FUTURE

We spent some personal time in the Workshop imagining a different future and this exercise bought a strong response from me as I have been imagining a new career twist to take me into my 70s and beyond. We received a useful tool to help with that process.

And lastly, Doug talked about the key life skill of –

BEING ABLE TO DEVELOP A PURPOSE AT ANY GIVEN TIME IN MY LIFE

Here was a strong link to my pet hobby-horse, Life After Farming. In the research for my book of the same name, there was a strong message from our retired farmers on this point. “Look ahead and anticipate the changes coming up. Make sure you have a purpose in life once you give up the big job of farming. And remember, it can’t go on forever. One day you will need to find a purpose in life other than farming, other than physical exertion. What will it be? As a thought experiment, imagine you are paralysed from the neck down for the rest of your life. What would your purpose in life be?

Doug tells the story of how community work or other ‘giving’ activities can be a rewarding purpose in a life after farming (or whatever your main career has been), but he goes on to say that ‘pressured giving’ is crap. “Giving has to come from within.” My father was pressured into becoming a member of parliament at 46, giving back to the community was the expression the local Nats used. It didn’t suit him. He did his best but what a relief for him to be voted out after two terms.

Keep asking great questions …

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