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What’s your No. 1?

By Matt Reese

First, let me say that this blog is 100% guaranteed to NOT help commodity prices or the overall farm economy. It also should be noted that I am NOT a: preacher, doctor, researcher, PhD, or anything other than your friendly farm writer.

With these important disclaimers out of the way, please read on. As I continue to hear about more farms being sold, mounting economic stress for farms and very bad things occasionally happening within the agricultural community when things go wrong, I feel compelled to share some thoughts on how to handle the inevitable challenges of life, including these tough agricultural times.

First, when tough times come about on the farm, it is important to understand that the only thing you can actually control is what you do. You can influence/manipulate/orchestrate many things, but you can only truly control your actions.

So what shapes your actions? I believe that everything we do is driven by our guiding set of principles or priorities. Tough times offer great opportunities assess the personal priority list guiding your actions and decisions. If you haven’t done this, there is no time like the present. Start at the top with the most important thing, then work your way down the list. Note that each item on the list has influence over every item below it on the list. Also, be sure to include “self” on the list (I promise you that it will be on there somewhere even if you don’t include it).

Now, here is the interesting part. Review some recent decisions you have made (both important and mundane) and compare them to the priority list you crafted. If a decision you made for one item on the list hurts or detracts from an item above it on the list of ideal priorities, you need to move that item below the item that drove the decision. For example, if you list “family” as your No. 3 priority, but miss an important family event to work on the “farm” that is your No. 4 priority, the “farm” is a least a No. 3 priority for that particular decision and “family” is at best a No. 4. If you have a pattern of behavior that regularly creates this situation, your decision-making is out of whack with your priorities. You need to either re-assess your priorities or your decision-making.

So, what is your No. 1? Everyone has one. It is the one last thing you would give up if you lost everything. It is your reason for existing and the biggest part of how you value yourself as a person. And, whether you acknowledge it or not, protecting your No. 1 thing is your top priority in life. It can either protect or destroy everything else on your priority list. What is it? It could be many things that are very positive including: spouse, children, family, home, status, achievement, career, business, God/religion, or relationships. It could also be negative problems including: addictions, excess, or material items.

Deep down, if you really think about it, you can look through your life’s pattern of decisions and figure out your No. 1, but be warned: it may not be what you want it to be.

A person’s No. 1 thing has a powerful impact on their decision-making and, if threatened, the No. 1 can lead to irrational and harmful choices. Certainly for many farmers, (right or wrong) there is a great incentive to make the farm their No. 1 thing. It is so easy to do. The farm, for so many, can be a legacy, business, career, family, religion, and self all wrapped into one giant No. 1.

During tough economic times such as these, there can be devastating consequences with this. In recent years, hundreds of Ohio dairy farms have gone out of business due (at least in part) to the grim economic situation. That is a tough situation no matter how you look at it, but if milking cows is your No. 1 reason for existing and you lose the farm, then what?

Aside from figuring out the top priority, the second most important thing to consider is the ACTUAL placement of “self” on the list based upon decisions that have been made. This is very tricky to determine.

If you list your farm as No. 1 and YOU protect “farm” at the continual expense of everything else on YOUR list because YOU have determined it is the most important thing to protect, which item is really at the top of your list? I would argue that, if we really scrutinize most of our lists, sneaky “self” almost universally works it’s way to the top.

My apologies for being a bit preachy and grim, but times for agriculture are tough and, with the holiday season just around the corner, I fear stress, anxiety and suffering could all be on the rise for many in the Ohio agricultural community I love. More farms will be lost. More lives will be changed. That is inevitable and, in some cases, beyond control. In our control, however, are the actions we take based on the priorities we set.

What’s your No. 1?

For further reading, see Mark 9:35 and Exodus 20:3.

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