Growing up on a farm in Idaho, I read everything I could get my hands on. I loved stories, still do for that matter. Play time became a chance for me to reenact my favorite stories, including the ones where you run away from home. The farthest I ever got was a quarter mile and my mom lured me home with breakfast.
Between school, reading, and play, we worked on the farm, too. Unlike the tales you’ve read that romanticize living on a farm, mine comes with a heavy dose of reality—the work was challenging and risky. During the summers, my dad left early in the morning, we might see him at lunch, and then he’d come home after we went to bed. Every year you went into the fields, you gambled that Mother Nature would cooperate and that a market would exist for the crops you produced. When it comes to business, few professions are as risky as farming.
The risks aside, I loved spending time with my dad. He’d take me with him early in the morning when he checked irrigation pivots. During planting and harvesting, I could ride with him in the tractor. It was a good life, but I didn’t understand fully how hard my parents worked until I saw how little other people worked, a lesson that sticks with me today.
When we were old enough to be taller than the crops, my dad set my brother and myself to pulling sunflowers, a weed when it appears in a potato field. If you’ve ever tried pulling up a sunflower, you know it’s difficult. The roots go deep and wide. They weren’t easy. Often it took the combined effort of both of us to get one pulled. Pulling sunflowers seemed to take forever even though we were rarely outside for more than an hour. One day, entirely fed up with this project, I stepped on the sunflower stem, breaking it at the base. Quick to see an opportunity, I started breaking more stems, because if you can no longer see the sunflowers, they’ve been pulled, right?
My dad wasn’t a fool, and I never stopped to consider how I’d explain that a job expected to last for a few more days was finished in 30 minutes. He figured out what we’d done, but both he and my mom made their point in other ways. Over time, by watching their example, I figured out that short cuts can lead to poor results if not complete redos.
The lessons have stuck, because I always feel a sense of unease when I take shortcuts that affect the quality of my work. I carried these lessons with me through both undergraduate and graduate school. It also helped me navigate the challenges of working in corporate communications for seven years. Now, four years after going out on my own, I know from firsthand experience the challenges that face individuals and businesses trying to figure out their stories.