The other morning, while stirring my coffee, I was flipping through an agricultural magazine. “Think big”, “The American dream”, or “Go for it” seem to be life’s biggest objectives. To motivate us, we are bombarded with superlatives like “extraordinary”, “really spectacular”, “impressive”, or “enviable” to describe these mega-businesses, be they from Canada or elsewhere.
These articles boast milking rooms which operate 24 hours a day, farms with 1,000 or 4,000 cows and mega-sites for hog barns. To get there, they underline the importance of making sure the animals are comfortable, their stress levels reduced to a minimum in order to achieve maximum production and that they are fed a healthy and well-balanced diet. The goal of all this is to attain the greatest potential from every animal in terms of both production and longevity.
The more of these articles we read, the more we are influenced by them. We lose our perspective, we lose our critical capacity, but we buy the dream. What dream? Are these farmers, their families and employees leading such extraordinary, enviable and spectacular lives? We would probably be surprised to find out that the animals’ feed is far from healthy and well balanced, that the word comfort doesn’t exist and that stress is very much a part of their lives.
I didn’t get a chance to confirm my impressions with any of the owners of these big American farms and their families, but, in working as a psychologist in the agricultural industry, hundreds of farmers have confided their despair to me, farmers who had been seduced with promises of rewards of expansion.
Herds multiply with breathtaking speed. Genetics has doubled or tripled production in the last 10 to 20 years. It lets us choose the best of pedigrees so we can increase desirable traits or correct undesirable ones in the next generation. Technology and modern facilities let us milk hundreds of cows in the same time that our grandfathers milked 20. The result: many farms have doubled in size in the last 10 years. Some are even 20 times bigger than 20 years ago.
What about us poor humans? Our abilities haven’t doubled or tripled. As far as I know, our grandparents didn’t choose their spouses to improve the race, to correct their faults or to be more productive. We have similar abilities to those of our grandparents. We are no more intelligent, and have no more tolerance to stress. There has been little development in humans to improve our personal abilities or to change the way we think and act. The obvious observation therefore is that human beings can’t keep up with the development of their businesses.
Our limitations, when added to others that were not anticipated, i.e. environmental regulations, mad cow disease, globalization, result in a lot of stress, psychological distress, burnout, conflicts and marital separations. For many individuals, “reality” is not synonymous with “extraordinary”, “enviable” or “impressive”.
It is important to set high goals in life. But goals must be realistic and good for both you and those around you. Some expansion can be very successful if the true abilities of those involved, including their values, needs and resources, as well as their limits, are taken into consideration. But this practice doesn’t seem to be the rule.
A lot of people have wanted to be the Wayne Gretzky of agriculture. They bought all the equipment they needed but ended up realizing they just couldn’t skate as well as he does. Now all they have to do is to pay for all that equipment!
Work Psychologist, professionnal speaker, author and business coach