By Grayson Webster
Coming into the New Year, resonating on the last, there has not been a person I have spoken to that did not struggle in 2020. All had encountered some sort of emotional or mental turbulence through a very unprecedented and traumatic year. Particularly dear friends and loved ones in the agricultural sector.
It flagged with me the somewhat nonchalant approach we have within agriculture to managing our overall wellbeing and proactively taking steps to ensure we are personally operating optimally. There seems to be somewhat of an undercurrent to our culture of suppressing the impact events have on us and just “pushing through”.
“Fill Your Own Cup First” is not a sentiment that ever overly resonated with me until recently. Anyone who has grown up on the land or is from a farming background knows there is too much to be accomplished in the day. Too many other living, breathing entities that rely on us for survival, to be worried about any other “cup filling” exercises unless it is of the caffeinated kind of a morning or a particular glass one of an evening…
The agricultural industry places a heavy emphasis on technical and hard skills. One's ability to operate machinery, analyse data to increase efficiency, manage a budget, load a boat with thousands of heads of cattle, manage projects or succession that involve living, breathing animals is what often defines one’s ability to be successful.
Modern society has created a giant apparatus for the cultivation of hard skills yet failed to encourage or cultivate cultures that develop the moral and emotional faculties down below. As the next generation of leaders in our industry we are coached on how to jump through scholastic hoops and are constantly looking at how we can be better, do more and evolve our skills to effectively tackle the challenges that lay within agriculture and its development into the next century.
There is no KPI or industry regulation to follow to alleviate the pressure created within our own mind and bodies.
Yet our soft skill set will be the fundamental matrix to leading a truly fulfilling and happy life. By far the most important decisions we will make in this life are about who we marry, who we befriend, what to love, what to despise, and how to control our impulses. On these matters of the mind and the heart, we are often almost entirely on our own. There is no KPI or industry regulation to follow to alleviate the pressure created within our own mind and bodies.
As an industry, we are good at talking about material incentives, animal welfare and delivering outcomes but abysmal at talking about emotions, intuitions, and overall human wellbeing. We are exceptional at teaching technical skills but when it comes to the most important things like growing one’s character, or managing mental health, we have almost nothing to say.
Don’t get me wrong, hard skills are essential, but they are only one aspect.. Soft skills are what ultimately amplify one’s hard skill set and help us, and others grow as individuals. They are often innate, but in my experience, they need to be built and enhanced consistently through continual learning. Just like learning the intricate management of cattle onboard live export vessels or mechanically maintaining your prime equipment during harvest, these soft skills need to be understood, focused on and continually developed the same way we maintain hard skills. Managing our perspective and practicing patience, is as equally important as learning to pull a pressure pump apart or ploughing your best paddock for the ultimate crop to grow for example.
If we do not start to implement and support cultures where vulnerability is championed, struggles are open and addressed as teams and knowing where to get support is as easy as logging onto Facebook - we will inevitably fail ourselves.
If we partnered the level of investment that we see in our stock handling training as that of our emotional intelligence and leadership development, we would be looking at an agricultural workforce that had more power than the NASA Building…
We would also be looking at the highest risk age bracket of individuals with lower depression, lower anxiety, and the gaps of those that slip through the middle would slowly begin to sew itself shut.
“The conversations around mental health aren’t nearly as dangerous as what we create through our silence” – Oli Le Lievre, Humans of Agriculture Founder
*If you or someone you know needs help or advice on how best to deal with mental health then you can reach out to beyond blue, lifeline or call our friends at the TIACS hotline on 0488 846 988.