18 August 2020

Lance Gillespie: Success, Failure and Farmer Tom

Success and failure, two strong words that can influence our life decisions.

What success and failure are to each of us can be determined by our upbringing, our life experiences, and our values. Success and failure can mean something different to each of us. So, let us define success using the Oxford Dictionary: “the fact that you have achieved something that you want and have been trying to do or get.”

The meaning of failure is far more obscure: “an act or instance of failing or proving unsuccessful, lack of success in doing or achieving something.”

Robert Schuller said that,

“Failure doesn’t mean you failed; it means you haven’t succeeded yet.”

Henry Ford said,

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

Who measures success and failure? Who are we to judge success and failure? How do we determine what success and failure are? If we set goals to achieve and we don’t reach them, it doesn’t mean we failed; it means we changed our course, we hit a road bump along the way, a new direction became apparent on the journey, or our goal was set too high or too unrealistic to obtain.

I had a recent experience with someone, let’s call him Farmer Tom. We were standing in the paddock looking at pastures, soil, and worms. Farmer Tom started to share what was playing out in his head. He shared how he viewed success, what he had been striving to achieve over his many years of farming. He told me how he compared himself regularly to the third/fourth-generation farmers. He told me his bank balance was always in the negative, his work/life balance was becoming more unbalanced, and the family was growing up way too fast with no interest in the farm.

Every day seemed to be getting harder than the day before; summer drought, pest pressure, poor performing pastures, and the bank were all niggling at him like a mouse in his Redband gumboot. The need to borrow more coin to farm for another year – you could see it in his eyes that he had had enough. However, he couldn’t let it go because that would look like a failure, failure for not reaching his goals, achieving what he had set out to accomplish.

I wonder if he is seen by his family, his community, his friends, and farming peers as a failure? No, I don’t believe so however, that’s his view of how he sees the world around him.

Farmer Tom went on to talk about selling up, moving to something smaller… well, that opened up yet another can of worms for Farmer Tom. For this overachiever to trade down in the land area was unthinkable. Heck – farmer Tom was in his prime! The thought of selling would have been seen as a failure.

Image Credit: Table Flat Farmstay

As I probed Farmer Tom about his successes over the years, he started to share what he had achieved. “Well I have an amazingly supportive, caring wife, three happy well rounded and educated kids. I’m a respected member of the community, someone that is approachable for advice and actions that inspire others, a respected employer, dairy industry competition judge, Rabobank Executive Development Program winner, Regional Dairy Business Awards finalist, Ballance Farm Environment Awards finalist, and I’ve started two new businesses in the last twelve months… and well, I can grow lots of worms in my topsoil too!”

So, after some time, it was starting to emerge that actually Farmer Tom is a success in many ways. The fear of failure was more about a voice in his head that was hanging around like a bad smell.

So where was this conversation going? At this point, we started walking back to the truck, and on saying our goodbyes for the day, I left it that we would catch up in a week or so. We would carry on this conversation while digging some holes, smelling the soil, and looking at the soil profile some more.

The week ticked by and I had been thinking about Farmer Tom all week, I sent a message asking to catch up with him the next day. When I met up with him, we started chewing the fat over the weather and the week. Farmer Tom shared a conversation that he had had with his wife and went on to say, “I have, this week, come to realise what I have been battling with for some years now. My thoughts of what success is has been eroding my life of happiness and completeness, and this has been festering and starving my creativeness and the ability to live a happy and fulfilling life.”

I could hear from the tone in his voice and his body language that a spark was starting to appear and a glimmer of hope was emerging as this conversation unfolded. Farmer Tom looked at me with a tear in his eye, an epiphany had occurred as he described the events and conversations that had unfolded.

As I stood looking at Farmer Tom, he looked back at me. We stared at each other and this overwhelming sense came over that we were, in fact, the same person. There was no Farmer Tom, only Farmer Me.

This has been the conversation, the story, and the journey that been playing out over the last number of years for me, however, it would be fair to say my life has been pretty enjoyable. My view on success has changed, I see that success can be determined by our inner peace, happiness, and contentment. Maybe, just maybe, my battle has been more about contentment.

I will leave you with this quote,

“Contentment is being at peace with who you are now while embracing change for the future.”

I wrote this piece a month ago as I gathered my thoughts for my upcoming Collective Intelligence team meeting. I wanted to be able to articulate on paper and convey my message to the team. This has helped me put some clarity around my journey to date, giving me new insights about myself. I think that we are all on a journey and we all have a story playing in our heads that needs to be shared.

Lance Gillespie – August 2020

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