The painting above is Fishermen at Sea by JMW Turner, 1794. Making the decision to change direction often makes us feel vulnerable, like we are being tossed about in a dark sea.

Scientists, psychologists, pollsters, and statisticians are always trying to categorize people into groups. Are they conservative or liberal? Are they introverts or extroverts? Are they right-handed or left-handed? Do they prefer that the toilet paper rolls over the top or from the back?

I guess I am no different, because I found myself putting people into two groups, although I had no agenda. My categorization of people had to do with personal decision making. I was making some significant decisions for myself, and I found myself wondering why certain decisions were difficult. Let me explain…

I was going to go to Australia as an intern under Geoff Lawton at Zaytuna Farm. This was my plan for many years. I just needed to complete my service commitment to the U.S. Air Force. I had already spoken with his staff about it. I spoke briefly to Geoff about it at the Permaculture Voices conference last year, and I sent in a deposit to hold a spot. I was getting ready to move back to the United States, and I even had a job that was going to allow me to take a leave of absence. However, after much consideration and deliberation I decided that I would not take the path I had planned on for so long, and I realized that this was a very difficult decision to make. I will go into the reasons for my decision in a moment, but first I want to share why I feel this decision was so hard for me. I believe others may benefit from this analysis as well.

First, and here comes my people-catagorizing, I initially thought people could be lumped into two broad groups: Those who change direction easily and those that do not. I think there is some truth to this, generally speaking. The people who change direction easily are often considered “flighty”. They hop from project to project, idea to idea, job to job. They never quite finish anything. They are often impulsive. They can be a lot of fun, but they are not always dependable. Conversely, the people who don’t change direction easily are often considered “determined”. They see things to the end, sometimes to the bitter end. They will often forsake much in the pursuit of their goal. They often accomplish a lot, but they can leave a lot of damage in their wake. Of course, these are the two extremes. Most people lie somewhere in the middle of the two, just like a right-handed person still uses their left hand for many tasks through the day.

This initial categorization held up, but not for long. I looked at my own past, and I saw that I was flighty with some things and very determined with others. Why was this? What I realized is that it is easy to change direction on things that are not that important to us, on things that we have little invested, on things that we have not planned on for very long. Whereas things that are important to us, things we have invested in, and things we have planned on for a long time are much more difficult to give up.

I also came to understand that there is a potential danger in becoming determined about a task or goal, for once we have become determined to accomplish a certain task or achieve a goal, we tend to lose introspection. We tend not to reevaluate. We tend not to ask ourselves if that goal is still the goal we should accomplish. So I asked myself again, why was this? I think it all comes down to having more at stake when we change our mind about things we have become determined. Here are some reasons why it is hard to change direction:

  • We may have money invested.
  • We may have time, sometimes a lot of time, invested.
  • We may have people relying on us to accomplish that task/goal. They are probably relying on us, because we have talked about it so much.
  • Our pride may be wounded when we change our mind. People may say, “I thought you were going to do…”, “But you told me you were going to… “, “Ha! I didn’t think you’d be able to…”, “That was a bit lofty, don’t you think?”
  • When our pride is wounded, we may feel disappointed in ourselves.
  • When we decide not to accomplish something we have wanted to do for so long, there may be a sense of loss.

On a side note, I think I should add that changing direction is very different than failing. Failing can occur for many reasons, many of which are outside our scope of influence, but not always. Changing direction may occur due to failure, but it is not failure in and of itself.

To me, this thought process about changing direction reinforced Permaculture Principles One (Observe and Interact) and Four (Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback). And while I am not an expert on the subject, a decision-making framework is exactly what Holistic Management is all about. I would highly recommend looking into HM as you move forward with any project.

Ultimately, we need to be constantly reevaluating what it is we are doing and understand why we are doing it. We need to be comparing the “what” and the “why” of the specific project on which we are working to our larger, big-picture goals (HM would say our Holistic Goals or Context). We need to adjust or completely change directions when needed, and we can’t be too afraid or too blinded by our determination to do so.


How things feel when a wise decision is made. Fishing Boats in a Calm Sea, by Charles Brooking (1745-1759)

This is how things feel when a wise decision is made. Fishing Boats in a Calm Sea, by Charles Brooking (1745-1759)

Now that I have given a little insight into the difficulty of changing direction, I will share the specifics on why I decided not to go to Australia:

  • It was going to cost a lot of money. Yes, the internship itself was not cheap, but I honestly felt it was worth it. However, I also had to factor in the cost of airfare and the cost of lost wages, since I would not be earning an income while I was gone for 10 weeks. I also had to factor in the cost of maintaining my household (wife and four children) who still needed to eat while I was gone. This was turning into a very expensive trip. In reality, I had first planned on taking this trip before my first child was born. Goodness, but time changes a lot!
  • In the same vein, I would be spending the money I was saving for a land downpayment. Spending this money for education, while a good investment, was going to set me back a few years. This would further delay our big-picture goal of purchasing land, and this goal had already been delayed more than I would have liked… I have been waiting for YEARS to complete my Air Force commitment.
  • I spent four years living overseas at very small military bases. The assignments officer (that is the person who decides who goes where in the military) always had difficulty filling spots for physicians in Turkey and in the Azores. Nobody wanted to go to these bases, so someone would be “volun-told” to go there. These were rather remote assignments, and they were considered “less desirable” bases for a number of reasons. But there was one benefit to these bases. Because there were only 1-2 regular staff physicians at these locations, they almost never got deployed. I understood that I was in the military, and if I deployed, that was my job. I wasn’t going to complain about it. However, I was very proactive about trying to avoid deployments. I had seen too many really good people (physicians included) who were forever changed, for the worse, by their war experience. I had no desire to have that kind of emotional and psychological baggage, especially when I had my own personal questions about the mission as a whole. I also had no desire to leave my wife and very young children if I could help it. So I volunteered to go to these remote bases, because I knew the chances of my being deployed would be so low. The assignments officers were always a little surprised about my requests. But, truth be told, I loved living in Turkey and the Azores, and I really wonder why they have such a bad reputation. I wouldn’t ever trade that experience, and my wife agrees. With all that said, I spent four years proactively avoiding being separated from my family. And here I was about to volunteer to be gone from my family for almost three months for a trip to Australia. Granted, it would be nothing like a deployment, but it just seemed a little backwards.
  • When I first started learning about Permaculture, I was like a kid in a candy shop. Everything looked amazing, and I wanted to try it all. Actually, I think I still feel the same way, but I have realized I can’t do it all. As I have continued to grow and mature and learn about Permaculture, and sustainable/regenerative agriculture in general, I have begun to develop a vision for what it is I want to do. I want to exercise Permaculture on the broad scale. I want to be a food producer. As a physician, I always try to look for the root cause of the problem; I don’t want to just put a band-aid on it. I feel that our country’s health is very poor, and while there are a lot of contributing factors to this, I feel like the ultimate root cause is how our food is raised. It is the soil, or rather the dead soil (dirt), where our food is being grown that is the problem. The internship at Zaytuna Farm has a lot of great education, but the goal of that farm is different than what I want to do. Their focus is on education and getting a broad Permaculture experience. I didn’t want to take the time, and money, to do things that were not directly and entirely in line with my primary goal, even though I know I would have a great time and learn a lot at Zaytuna.
  • I realized that if I did not take this trip to Australia, I would instead be able to attend a number of other courses closer to home. These courses would focus my educational time on things that would help me reach my primary goal. In addition, because I was not gone for months at a time, I could still keep saving for our land.
  • I hope that this doesn’t sound arrogant, because that is not how I see it. Over seven years ago, when I first decided I wanted to attend a Permaculture internship, I had so much I needed to learn. But I have learned a whole lot in the intervening years. I don’t think it would benefit me nearly as much as it would have seven years ago. In addition, internships offer the opportunity for people to do the same thing many times so that they can master it, or hopefully at least get proficient at it. But I realized that my learning style is really one of seeing, not doing over and over. If I see how something is done, I get it. I don’t need to do it over and over again before I understand it and can replicate it. This may be related to the classic style of medical education I endured, “See one, do one, teach one.” I am sure that if I did an internship, I learn something new every day. However, I decided that I would rather spend my time “seeing” as much as possible over this next year before we acquire our land. I will then be able to “do” on my land. I have no issues with internships. I’ve done a physician internship myself. There is great education in internships, and I plan to offer internships on my land as well. I have just decided that an internship is not my best use of time right now.
  • Finally, and this development occurred after my decision was made, but Geoff Lawton is no longer even offering his 10-week internship! Zaytuna Farm revamped their courses, and now they offer 4-week Specialized Work Experiences. I actually think this is a great change, and it actually addresses some of my reasons for deciding not to attend the internship. After reading about it, I may consider attending one of these in the future. But that is a whole other decision!
My photo from the Keyline Course.

My photo from the Keyline Course.

So, with all that said, I am planning on attending what I call Continuing Permaculture Education (CPE). As a physician, each year I am required to maintain a certain level of Continuing Medical Education (CME) to maintain my license. Why should I not do the same with Permaculture? Here is what I plan on doing this year… if all goes according to plan. Maybe I’ll see you there!




Subscribe to and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!

Photo References: