Toban Dyck: No lightning strike, no eureka moment — only incremental growth

Lessons learned from AAFC research scientist Robert Conner

I asked Dr. Robert Conner to choose one eureka moment in his 38-year career as a research scientist and describe it to me. It was a simple question. His answer was unexpected.

I had the distinct honour of interviewing Conner, an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research scientist, for an article I was writing for Pulse Beat, the official magazine of Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers.

Conner is approaching retirement after nearly 40 years with AAFC. The only thing capable of overshadowing his scientific legacy is his reputation as a good person.

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Surely, someone like him would have a eureka moment to share and dazzle Pulse Beat readers with.

Instead of that. Instead of something as spectacular as a lightning strike of inspiration, he revealed his depth of character and told me that he sees his career as incremental and collaborative, and that he can’t recall any moment in which he had a thought or revelation that no other person had before.

Today is the last day of my 30s. As I write this, tomorrow is March 2 and I will turn 40 years old. This is not a lament. It’s an increment.

I am no longer new to the farm. I have become immersed in the agricultural industry since my wife and I moved here eight years ago.

I wrote about our decision to move back to the family farm as a eureka moment, and have referred back to that time often. My beginnings in the agricultural industry were anchored on the power of that story. At least, I believed this.

At any given time and to any given audience, I would happily, passionately and convincingly share the story of how Jamie and I made that decision. I still tell it.

There’s a problem with this, though. Summarizing a career or attributing success to one singular moment doesn’t seem right, especially when contrasted with a view of incremental growth.

I would rather look forward to how tomorrow will build upon today than chase a time in my life that has come and gone.

And, similarly, I would rather attribute our decision to move back to the farm as a symptom of our steady progress than as a one-time gift from some ephemeral, otherworldly force existing outside our own faculties. Such a gift may not happen again and I don’t want to waste time pining for it.

My most impactful story becomes the one I tell about today; not a stale, eight-year-old one.

To appreciate today as the culmination of nearly 40 years of incremental progress seems like a worthy pursuit.

Every year we spend on the farm, our understanding of it deepens and our vision for it changes. I am comfortable with things now that scared me eight years ago.

I am no longer new to the farm, and I learned something yesterday that built on what I learned the day before and is manifesting in something I’ll do today.

I used to view farming as an intimidating blur of responsibilities that I’d never decode, but that has begun to change.

The thought of growing new crops and implementing new practices doesn’t fill me with fear like it once did, and I can’t fully unpack why that is the case, apart from suggesting that Conner’s philosophy is, indeed, the correct one.

This whole farming thing is collaborative and incremental. I see it. My career in the industry has been a slow and steady march in what I think is a good direction, and it’s been one for which I can’t take sole credit. I’ve had the honour of working alongside many amazing people.

When I started in agriculture, I was brand new to most of it. Now, I am not. I’ve chased my curiosities, developed relationships, challenged myself and allowed this ride to take me however far it plans to.

It’d be success by any measure if instead of interpreting something as pure discovery or a eureka moment, my default reaction would be talk about progress over time and the amazing people I had the honour of working alongside over the years.

It’s been incremental and 2020 is going to be different on our farm and in our lives. Not because I’m clinging to a hope I can’t explain, but because 2019 surely taught me something. Stay tuned for what that something is.

In the meantime, I’ll re-write my ag story to hinge on something more recent and more appropriate than a eureka moment I had many years ago.

Here’s to 40!

About the author

Columnist

Toban Dyck is a freelance writer and a new farmer on an old farm. Follow him on Twitter @tobandyck or email [email protected]

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