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Abbey Wick

Soil Health Minute: Oh, the pressure! But a mentor can help

When we change the way we do things, like shifting to soil health building practices, there is often a certain level of peer pressure that accompanies that change.

I looked up the definition of peer pressure in Webster's Dictionary and it says: "feeling that one must do the same things as other people of one's age or social group in order for them to be liked or respected by them."

I always remembered the being "liked" part of this definition when I think of peer pressure I felt in middle and high school, but now that I'm in my professional career, I think more about the being "respected" part of that definition.

Most of us, as adults, are OK with not being liked because we are comfortable in our own skin, but we all have the need to be respected in our careers. When we change a practice or approach and feel the peer pressure, it's the idea of not being respected that may hurt the most.

Here are some thoughts as many of you are thinking about changing practices, have started doing something different or have been using different practices for a long time and still feel the pressure. Yes, even the people who have done things differently for decades still feel peer pressure.

First, surround yourself with people who support you. If your buddies are truly committed to you and your friendship, they should be supportive and reduce the level of peer pressure you're feeling. Sure, they can give you are hard time and joke around, but underneath, you should know that they have your back and support you in what you're doing. They should help you think through ideas and be a sounding board for you. But they also should still call a spade a spade when they have concerns and encourage you to think through the idea further or talk with other people who may have information you need.

I realize that this may be difficult to accomplish in a small town or with farming partners, but there are people all over the place trying soil health building practices. I can connect you with others who will support you or maybe you've already met them at one of our Café Talks or other meeting. The goal is to find people who support you in a healthy way — both supporting and questioning — focus on those relationships.

Second, if you're just getting started, find a mentor or a few mentors. Talking with someone who has been using soil health building practices for a while can be really important when you get in a bind. You'll need someone to call, even if it's just to tell you, "you can do this" or to help troubleshoot issues. Most of the time, they may have experienced the same issue and know the adjustment to make to equipment or seeding angle etc. to make it work. If they don't know the answer, they will help you think through it. If you've been doing this a long time, I still suggest finding a mentor and/or reconnecting with old mentors. Maybe a mentor is someone who is just getting started and will bring a fresh perspective to what you're doing; or a prior mentor that you've lost touch with can still provide a new perspective and support. A mentor can take many different forms, just be open to finding someone who fits and that you trust.

Third, change your mindset to "I am going to make this work" instead of "I'm going to give this a try" to help you survive the peer pressure (a mentor I respect gave me this tip). Make it work, you likely have built up your knowledge and skill set to feel comfortable trying something new. If not, figure out what your gaps in knowledge or skill are and make improvements. Maybe it's attending more meetings, asking more questions, being more aware. Whatever it is, continue to build your knowledge and skills because we are never done learning.

Lastly, be kind. Whether you support what your friends/neighbors/colleagues are doing or not, be kind to each other. This goes for those involved in soil health and those who aren't. There's a nice way to share ideas, give advice, ask questions — choose your words wisely and be constructive.

My grandmother was the queen of biting her bottom lip, which means, if you don't have something nice to say, don't say it. I try to live by this rule — challenging, but you will be a more respected person as a result.

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