Balance… what is balance? I was not able to attend the majority of the most recent Northern Neck VALOR trip, and it was hard looking at the agenda knowing I was not going to participate with my cohort, and when I did get to spend the few hours one evening with the, it was hard not to have a little FOMO. However, I had to find the balance in my new job a week out from our busiest time of the year, The State Fair of Virginia. I had to learn how to prioritize, be true to my commitments, and make sure I took care of myself (mental and physical health) in the process…balance. I arrived to Urbanna, shared dinner with the cohort, discussed vulnerability, and received some heartwarming letters from my support network celebrating a successful first year in the program… and then I came back to the fairgrounds and barely left in the 3 weeks that followed.
Taking the time to step away from my current norm, to be with the cohort, to invest in different relationships, and to be reminded by all the wonderful people cheering for me was a valuable piece to recognize that balance and be honest with myself.
I tend to stretch myself a little thin, to pour myself out without stopping to refill my cup. Coming out post-fair, I have had to face the stark reality that I can throw myself into work and allow it to consume my life. It gives me pride, meaning, a sense of belonging, satisfaction… things that are all good, but not when done to avoid other things in my world that may fall short, other areas in my life that may require attention or serious self-reflection- or (the dreaded) change. In a sense, I feel it is easy for me to succeed at work. I believe in what I do, it makes sense to me, the outcome is typically proportional to the effort put in, and I’m surrounded by wonderful people. Although any job has its frustrations, I wonder if I throw myself into work as almost a way of self-preservation… In an effort to not be hurt by other things that I have less control in- or people outside of my necessary bubble, maybe I invest my time and energy in the easiest and cleanest avenues. But where is the balance in that?
It’s funny in a way… I will wear my heart on my sleeve, I’ll lay everything out on the table, and I am willing to be “vulnerable” where I feel invited…and sometimes just can’t control when I cry. But in being honest with myself, I recognize that I myself have a love-hate relationship with vulnerability and will avoid areas in my life that require vulnerability, that require me to admit that I don’t have it all together. P.s. I definitely don’t have it all together.
Just like the filters on Instagram creating the perfect picture, I have my own boundaries, barriers, and layers of armor in order to project that idealistic image, probably both to the world and myself. However, it’s not what it is cracked up to be, and I am learning that I need to take a step back sometimes from those barriers to dig a little deeper and ask myself “but what does Sarah Jane want/need?” A question that as a people pleaser I have consistently struggled with, whether in personal relationships, time commitments, and activities, and even when I began contemplating existing new job opportunities this past May. So as I reflect and type…I see that vulnerability can sometimes mean being able to ask myself the hard questions… and being able to be vulnerable with myself and others- my frustrations, hopes, fears, joys, and pains. And then taking the answers to those hard questions and allowing myself to prioritize joy, choose me, and actively seek where I am being led.
A vital part of being able to do that successfully is the community we choose and the relationships we invest in. I am often reminded of the strength and comfort our support network can provide us from a hug on a bad day or an intentional conversation. It can be a tough lesson, but finding that balance, leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability, and figuring out who is going to be along for the ride is always going to be worth it in the end.
Just as I am having to learn to find my own balance, we as agriculture professionals must find the balance as well- in doing what we love, in valuing mental health, in being willing to be vulnerable with the general public, in admitting the room for improvement (and lack of perfection), and in connecting all the community pieces that directly and indirectly touch agriculture. The future of agriculture and the success of our trajectory requires balance, vulnerability, and community…. and I believe in the future of agriculture.