Thursday, January 12, 2012

Your Predictable Life

Did you ever find out that your credit card has been put on hold due to erratic activity? First you head for your wallet (and hopefully find it) and see if the card is where you last put it away. Either way, your heart sinks into your stomach. It is terrible to imagine being violated in this way. That someone has tricked you, stolen from you, deceived you, and taken advantage of you. There is nothing comfortable about this process, including the part where you have to cancel the card and get a new one issued.

For me, once the logistics are over, a thought finally takes hold that I believe to be the most uncomfortable of all. I am being tracked and monitored. And I am predictable. Apparently, it is ever so obvious to someone when I stray from my normal routine. Just when I thought I lived a pretty fun-filled existence, chasing myself around in ways that keep my family and me stimulated, challenged and entertained, I am forced to face one simple fact. I am easy to read.

This week we finished the first part of our Holistic Management course. The material was nothing I hadn’t seen before. But seeing it all together, in the context of building farms and families as a unified whole was extremely powerful. The course had a lot of tools to offer and left no stone unturned with respect to ways of finding solutions to life’s little and big problems. Examples of decision-making tools included: asking five why's in a row when stating a problem (much like a child would) until you can get to the real source of it, budgeting and planning around family vacations and profits instead of waiting for the show and hoping for the best, brainstorming for ideas of solving problems or expanding enterprises that may not be evident, ways of determining what the weak links are in family systems or farm operations (or both!) and building solutions towards these rather than throwing money, time and energy in random directions in hopes that everything will work out okay.

Some of us watch our lives every day. We monitor our progress. We write things down. Blog posts, exercise charts, work schedules, diet rules, children’s lessons, family commitments, dreams, goals, ideas. We brainstorm. We calculate. We ask questions and seek advice. We take courses. We also enjoy denial, or stubborn acts of holding to our original thinking. When it comes to farming and parenting, it is ever so important to stay on the ball, always being open to real ways to move forward and through problems that arise. Otherwise the whole thing can topple down pretty quickly.

Today I attempted to put my entire life into a spreadsheet. I trusted that I would have the endurance to complete such a thing. That it would be pages and pages long and take days and days to get right. I have a big choice to make in the coming weeks (more on that later) so I needed to weigh out the factors that would be affected by my decision. Down the left hand side of the sheet I brainstormed all of the considerations at play. I imagined an elaborate scheme where I would score them and plug them into a complicated equation that would spit out an answer.

The list contained all of the things that are important to me. Everything I value. Everything that I couldn’t do without. And much to my surprise, the list was short. And then I noticed that once I had made that list, and added a few small details about timelines and income, the story was complete. There was nothing more to say.

Now I see why I would be able to track me so very easily. Did she exercise today? Did she sit on the floor and do a puzzle with her children? Did she head to the barn? Pet the dogs? Make a healthy meal full of farm fare?

Across the top of the sheet I wrote three scenarios. In each of the boxes below the scenarios I wrote down how the thing I valued would be affected in this situation. Seeing my life spread down the side of an Excel worksheet was extremely satisfying. Despite my concerns, the process was not that complicated. It was easy to see what was important to me, and therefore, easier to make a decision that would keep the things I valued intact. Just when I thought that my life was really intricate, that nobody would ever be able to figure out where I was coming from and where I was headed, I realized I was actually an open book.

I recommend this exercise even if you don’t have a decision to make – and especially if you do. I suppose it need not be a spreadsheet. It could be a vision board, a mind map, a 3-dimensional mobile if you like! You would record your greatest assets, thereby protecting them. Holding everything that matters to you, all in one place.

Is it reading a little bit of a book every day? Taking your dogs for a long walk? Making time to bake cookies with the little people in your life? Getting time away with your partner? Whatever you care about the most matters because it makes you who you are. It is as important as your income, your child’s dance lessons, your weight, upcoming birthday celebrations or any thing else you might track in writing.

Go away right now and make me a list. Use crayons on the back of a cereal box. Use markers on your bathroom mirror. If you want to, make a column in an Excel spreadsheet. You’ll see what I mean. They become more real when you put them down. Hopefully, no matter what happens next, yours to keep.

It turns out the things that matter most to me can’t be tracked by a credit card company. But if I was to be predictable and my life was that simple to read, let the story be something that reflects what I value most. And let us learn to put more importance and track these things with the same vigour that a credit card company would track our spending. Because it should be a darned big deal if something comes along and steals them away from you.

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