How do you know when you’re ready? And how do you separate what you’ll never be ready for (reading James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake or Tolstoy’s War and Peace comes to mind) versus things you may be ready for but not know it? (Offspring anyone?) Readiness isn’t just about being present and eager and… well, ready. It’s also about being prepared, being in a state of mind that’s quick and willing to respond, but also as ready to help others as yourself. It’s a maturity, achieving a certain level of knowledge, either as a child or as an adult, and readiness changes as you do.

When you think about it, readiness is a big part of life. It’s important to know when you’re ready, or not ready, for the situations life throws at you. But how do you know if you’re ready? To get married, go to war, have a child, read Anna Karenina, fall in love, buy a house, buy a candy bar? What are the parameters for such major decisions?

The answer, as far as I can tell, is you guess.

When Dad and I plant the garden every spring, we don’t know the plants won’t get frosted or blasted by heat. We don’t know this year’s fall calves won’t suffer through worse weather than they would being born in the spring. We don’t know with absolute 100% certainty that the next batch of canned tomatoes won’t kill us all with botulism. I don’t know that I’ll enjoy the next book I review. But by gathering information, looking at the facts, figuring out what worked or didn’t work in the past, making big decisions gets easier. Unfortunately, sometimes, after all that effort, readiness remains elusive and the last resort readiness tool remains: yarn and hope.

There are things I’ll never be ready for. (Rereading Don Delilo’s Underworld comes to mind.) Knowing your limits is strength in and of itself. In the Delilo situation, by admitting that I might need a different skill set or mindset is the first step to facing upcoming hurtle of his reverse narrative. As far judging readiness to buy a candy bar… I’m probably not ready for the amount of cardio involved afterwards, but at least that’s a little more in the ballpark. As for the challenge of rotational grazing cattle or raising and butchering chickens? Bring it on.

Sometimes we fail. (The Great Garden Project of 2010 comes to mind, where someone lent Dad a three-bottom plow and I had grandiose dreams of integrated raised beds that didn’t exactly pan out, to say it kindly.) Sometimes we fail miserably. (The year we calved in January in Michigan over half the calves died, frozen to the ground during a week of more than twenty degrees below zero.) And sometimes, against the odds, you succeed beyond your wildest dreams. (My last first date ended up pretty miraculous, but will give the final word around December on that.) We work off the information available to us and make decisions from there. While it’s important to be optimistic, it’s equally important to be realistic about your own readiness. Are you ready because you’re fully informed, enthusiastic and motivated, prepared to act decisively and swiftly with facts to back you up? Or are you ready simply because you think you are. It’s important to assess your readiness, and be brutally realistic about it. Better to realize early that you’re unprepared and then get prepared than find out in the middle that you weren’t ready and fail. After all, botulism is a bad way to go.

Few of us probably ever feel ready for the challenges thrown at us. But you can feel more empowered to face challenges through preparation and brutal self-assessment. Whether it’s having kids or growing a pot of spinach in the kitchen window, get informed about what you’re up against and know your strengths as well as your weaknesses. Use failure as a learning opportunity. Don’t calve during a January cold snap without an insulated barn. And remember to have fun and enjoy life; sunsets and butterflies are around for a reason. As long as you do your best, stay optimistic and realistic, live with passion, and can look yourself in the mirror in the morning, you’re as ready as any of us ever are.

Axie Barclay is a Michigan writer with a cow-habit. Having discovered the joys and potential for growth in alternative agriculture, she quests ever longer and harder for ways to combine farming and writing into a business. When not milking cows, making disgruntled noises at the latest disgusting thing the heeler dogs dredge up, riding horses, or keeping the fence up around her small beef herd, she’s holed up reading an eclectic array of books or tapping out pages. When not working, she enjoys kicking back with her honey, family, and friends at a bonfire with some beers. Chat her up on Twitter and Facebook, /axieb, orhttp://barclayfarmsandlit.blogspot.comwhere she delves into literature and agriculture with a relish… and occasionally ketchup. Soon to be homemade.