February 01, 2023

Shutske: Farmers and ranchers, your strengths are many!

The new year is upon us. Most of us are eager to get on with another year, armed with a list of resolutions and a to-do list that can be daunting.

Planning for another year, the coming growing season, getting all our financials in order and moving forward is important.

But it’s also important for our well-being and mental health to occasionally reflect on all the great things we have — often through practices of gratitude — and all we’ve accomplished in the past 12 months.

To help you with your 2023 to-do list, consider also reflecting on 2022 and make a short list of all the great things you accomplished.

These days, to succeed in agriculture, it takes a set of skills and strengths that are rare in our society — persistence, patience, grit and determination are a few.

As we step back in a purposeful way to reflect on the important strengths we possess, we build our confidence.

These strengths have been developed through past experience, our upbringing — including the influence of our parents and other family — and our informal or formal education.

When we clearly understand and take the time to “name” our strengths, it helps build the confidence it takes to tackle the big challenges we will most certainly face.

A mental inventory of the skills we possess is like reviewing the functions of that multi-tool we carry around in a toolbox, or pocket.

When a complex issue arises in 2023 — and you know it will — it’s comforting and healthy to know that you have the tools it will take to tackle the problem.

Sometimes this process of developing an inventory feels uncomfortable. It might feel like we’re bragging if we talk about personal strengths and skills.

That’s a natural feeling, but research shows that clear thinking about our strengths and skills, and perhaps writing them down someplace for your own personal reflection, reduces stress and builds self-esteem.

This becomes important when times are tough or when you have feelings of self-doubt or concern for the future.

So, what are we talking about? Consider things like:

Personality-Related Strengths

• Great sense of humor

• Able to participate in a productive conversation

• Good listener

• Leadership strengths in your community, church or ag organization

• Can-do attitude and problem solver

• Ability to positively impact your children or other loved ones through empathy and positive directing

• Willingness to take off and spend quality time with loved ones or friends without worry, even if it’s a weekend getaway

Physical Strengths

• Endurance and fitness that make it easier to get through long days during busy times

• Ability to get a good night’s sleep

• Flexibility and ability to move

• General health status and willingness to proactively get routine medical care

Farm-Specific Strengths

• Strong sense of vision and ability to anticipate the future

• Financial knowledge and knowing when to seek help from an accountant, banker or attorney

• Mechanical skills

• Understanding of the biology of animal behavior, crop and animal health, soil quality and so forth.

• Ability to learn about new technology related to machines, computers, apps and so on.

• Strong time management skills and ability to delegate tasks when it makes sense

Over the years, I’ve worked with dozens of farmers to help them inventory their strengths.

In some cases, it was about helping them understand they had what it might take to expand their operation or to change some part of their production system.

I’ve also worked with farmers who were forced to exit — often because of health or a disability that made physical work impossible.

In these cases, with an hour of conversation, it was easy for them to list two or three pages, almost a “farm résumé” of sorts.

Without exception, it helped make people feel confident, excited and eager for that next important challenge despite the obstacles they needed to face.

So, grab a couple sheets of paper. Spend 30 minutes on one of these cold January nights. Make a list of all those skills and strengths you possess.

You’ll be surprised by the length of your list. Set it aside and check in with your list from time to time. You’ll be ready to tackle 2023 head on.

John Shutske is a professor and Extension specialist with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Biological Systems Engineering and UW–Madison Division of Extension.