The bull was standing not fifteen feet in front of us. He’s a solid chunk of grass powered muscle and I was chattering away about the fact, rattling off pedigree information and reporting on previous calf crops sired by the beast currently subjected to our scrutiny.
Despite the proximity to such an awesome animal and my enthusiastic and unending descriptions, my guest seemed distracted. He came to look at our herd bull, but, as we stood in the pasture to accomplish that objective, the guy couldn’t keep his eyes off the fence.
When I finally realized the cattleman wasn’t listening, I stopped talking and allowed the silence to settle in between us. I was interested to learn what had him so preoccupied. After a brief intermission he acknowledged the void in conversation and asked, in total disbelief, ‘Is THAT all you use to hold him in?’
‘THAT’ was in reference to a single strand of braided nylon rope interspersed with thin metal filaments and hanging delicately on small fiberglass posts. From any angle it is viewed, the perimeter does not look substantial enough to stop a poodle, let alone 1,800 pounds of testosterone fueled Hereford.
I think the poor fellow would have fainted had we walked up over the hill to see thirty cows and calves contentedly grazing and retained in a perfect group by the same system. Nonetheless, they were there and such a simple setup works wonders for my grazing management.
That experience got me thinking about barriers and how we perceive them. Anyone with livestock experience will agree that physical barriers often fall short of their desired effect. If a cow decides she can fit through, or around, or under, or over a physical barrier, she will toil endlessly at the project until she has accomplished the goal. A physical barrier is something that can be destroyed. Simple wire fencing, however, works because it creates a psychological barrier that is much more difficult to overcome.
The single wire is electrified, and a touch delivers a shock that is quite memorable. Few animals will encounter it more than once, choosing to instead respect the boundary wire as though it were the end of the world. Cows train their calves to avoid the boundary limits of their grazing cell, and the fence creates a nearly invisible guidance system that enables me to steer animals around our farm with precision rivaling that of a lawnmower. It is a completely stress free, movable, adjustable, beautiful tool to use.
What we can learn from this system is remarkably important for our lives, careers, and businesses. The little electric fence is substantial to a cow in her mind only. Shocks are not significant enough to cause any harm beyond brief discomfort, and the fence itself is so flimsy a momma and her calf could easily break through and depart. Yet, the herd, from the smallest calf to the most masculine bull, remains inside the paddock because they perceive the fence as a blockage too robust to conquer.
How often do we allow a psychological barrier to hold us back? While the system is beneficial for a cow because the management improves her grass supply, for people a perceived insurmountable challenge can be crippling. I know for a fact I allow painful experiences from my past to restrict my life today, but the ‘pain’ was in reality just a brief discomfort that counts only as a learning experience for the rest of my life, not a restriction that should keep me from thriving.
Statistically, the first time we try something new we will fail due to some unforeseen nuance that was overlooked during the planning stages of the attempt. Because a hurt is twice as emotionally jarring as a success, people will lump the entire new concept into the ‘won’t work’ category and avoid the subject at all costs in the future, just like a cow will avoid the electric wire. After failing initially at a few more original concepts, many people stop trying anything new at all, deciding instead to accept a lifetime of sameness that is, at least, familiar. Failures become our mental electric fences.
Deliberate abandonment of the past is the only way to truly succeed in the future*. I, for one, need this thought tattooed on my forehead so I have to look at it every morning while I brush my teeth. To get the most out of life, according to Allan Nation, we must be like an old oak tree. Tall, majestic, and successful in their own right, oaks still produce thousands of acorns every year, most of which will fail at becoming a new tree. The parent tree never allows any of those failures to create a barrier from once again growing a crop and dropping the seeds to see if one will finally take root and thrive.
A psychological barrier should never limit us from experiencing our time on this earth to the maximum. Too often we’re like the giant bull that refuses to acknowledge the rest of the world located on the other side of the insignificant fence. Walk through the edge of your comfort zone and live, folks. Most of your hardships are in your head! When we get to the other side of the fence we can look back and see how small it always was.
*This is not my original thought, though I do not recall who it is that can rightfully claim credit.