Most everyone at one time or another has probably uttered: “My life would be perfect if only _______ (fill in the blank).” These dreams seem to pop up most often at the beginning of a brand new year.

“Well, life's not perfect,” our elders remind us, dragging us back to reality.

This irrefutable point was recently reinforced as I sat and listened to one of my favorite inspirational speakers, Jeff Cavins.

Drawing on a central theme of “real vs. ideal,” Cavins had my attention from the get-go when he described a mishap that occurred on the northwest beltline of the Twin Cities. His day began as many others — bidding his wife and family goodbye and heading off to a morning meeting. As he was driving, he began organizing his thoughts for the day. Then, all of a sudden, there they were — PIGS! Dozens of pigs! And, they were scampering up and down the ditches and across the four-lane highway. Everything stopped!

Turns out, a truck hauling feeder pigs had overturned, spilling the pigs, which naturally scattered in all directions.

In a moment of understatement, Cavins allowed that this was not an “ideal” start to the day — for the pigs or the people. Traffic backed up for miles. Drivers were not very happy! Some were not only irritated — but animated — pounding their steering wheels, shaking their fists. Others were frantically dialing their cell phones, calling friends, family and co-workers — changing plans, re-arranging appointments. Relatively few were relaxed. Even fewer saw the humor in the impromptu pig roundup.

After relating the story, Cavins asked the group: “How many of the people trapped in the traffic jam got up that morning thinking, ‘Gosh, I hope a truckload of pigs don't disrupt my morning commute?’”

The thought never entered their minds, of course. But, the situation was “real,” nonetheless.

“The Plan”

Most of us start each day with a plan. Certain tasks have to be done, often on a timeline that we mentally tick off in our mind. But the unexpected often disrupts “the plan” for the day, the month, the year.

Cavins figures about 20% of our time falls neatly into the “ideal” category, leaving us adjusting to the less planned, “real” world about 80% of the time. Most of us would be pleased if one in five days went according to plan. “So, why,” he asks, “Do we get so upset when our ‘ideal day’ doesn't pan out?”

Most of us know what reality looks like. We saw it in the closing months of 1998, when average losses mounted to nearly $55/hog in November, then pushed to $64/hog in December — the two worst months in modern-day hog markets. History came a little too close to repeating itself this past November when losses mounted to $45/head, according to Iowa State records that track production costs.

Certainly, there were some good years in the last 10. Not “ideal,” perhaps, but some financial healing took place.

As we launch into a new year, we try to visualize how we would like the next 365 days to play out — both personally and professionally.

Perhaps 2009 will be the “ideal” year with the price of hogs and the price of corn achieving a perfect balance. The price of corn will settle at a level where the grower, the ethanol plant and livestock producer can successfully coexist and attain reasonable profitability.

Perhaps this is the year that you will hit the lofty 30 pigs/sow/year mark. Some producers/managers are knocking at that door. When you consider the average pigs/litter reported in December 2001 was 8.66, and the corresponding report for December 2008 stood at 9.52 pigs/litter, it appears to be an achievable goal.

Or, a year without PRRS wreaking havoc with production numbers would be a perfect year.

Goals are Good

Targeting higher productivity and reasonable profits is what we do — and we do it pretty well. But, life's not perfect.

Remember, it's not so much the “ideal” that we crave, but rather the striving for it that gives life its purpose. Take a lesson from Mr. Cavins locked in the pig-induced traffic jam. Some days you have to just sit back, shake your head, laugh a little, and refocus on your blessings.

And, if you happen to come across dozens of pigs tying up traffic and messing up everyone's day, stop and help those poor souls who probably don't have a clue about what to do.

I'll close, then, wishing you a fair share of ideal days in 2009, and the gumption to deal with those that aren't entirely so.