Guess what: Hard work doesn’t always pay off. At. All. I thought I was doing everything right when I entered Corporate America. I showed up early, showed out ’til late, won first-ever awards, team worked and did it all again every single day since. After a while, I became just another workhorse who made institutions look good but nothing to really show for it. I wasn’t creating meaningful change, receiving advancement opportunities or benefiting my bank account. Most of the time, my above-and-beyond efforts were met with resistance, no raises, no nothing. Of course, other factors like race, gender and my go-getter attitude played into these unfortunate outcomes.
Over time, I turned into an office android. Going through the motions of getting that same paycheck and same cup of coffee just to stay up for those same boring team meetings. Then, I remembered where I came from. I wasn’t designed for the same ol’ thang for the rest of my life. I live for adventure and smashing standards that impact people. Growing up on my parents’ farm and working the land wasn’t just a pat on the back. There was constant self-discovery of new hard/soft skills, freedom and ample opportunities to have freakin’ fun.
The following farm-life lessons actually put me lightyears ahead of the corporate condition. I’ve always been more productive in the field than in a cubicle. Sticking to each lesson despite roadblocks has helped fast track my career into national and international circles never imagined — earning cool cash and experiences that value my talents and originate community change:
HOW TO DEVISE, FINISH A COMPREHENSIVE STRATEGIC PLAN. My cowboy father always has a master plan in place for the farm family to complete outdoor assignments. Throughout my childhood, I remember him sitting at the kitchen table mentally detailing strategic plans for feeding our barn animals, fixing broken structures and making sure the property remained landscaped and tidied up. His thorough schedule gave us a weekly framework to achieve desired deliverables by the end of each week. Frequently, he mapped out and often modified our projects based on the elements. And cutting corners just wasn’t happening. He knew if my siblings and I were lollygagging; it showed in our work. Early on, we learned not to mess around. Daddy thought a lot like George Washington Carver: “There is no short cut to achievement. Life requires thorough preparation — veneer isn’t worth anything.” Watching my daddy strategically plan helped me understand at an early age the importance of mapping out projects, hitting assignments and producing quality results.
HOW TO CULTIVATE A SENSE OF URGENCY. Farm work literally starts at the crack of dawn and doesn’t end ’til sunset. Working against sunlight meant we had to factor in time management and prioritize projects in order or importance. If we didn’t hit our assigned benchmarks, the entire week was thrown off. Trial and error on who could accomplish certain tasks quicker helped us all understand our strengths and made us more efficient. Both my parents’ leadership skills cultivated this eagerness for us to get jobs done so we could enjoy other activities. This urgency is what helped prepare me for daily, weekly newspapers. Whenever news happens, I’m ready to research, report, interview, write and edit with haste to get stories to readers as quickly as possible.
HOW TO SPARK CREATIVITY. Surrounded by fresh air, open fields and Southern foliage allowed my mind to escape — constantly. My imagination was out of this world on the family farm. A cartoon and media fanatic, I often daydreamed about becoming the next April O’Neil or Peter Parker in a big city. Cracking an adventurous case then selling my juicy scoop to the press. I grew up when “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Power Rangers” where hot, so my brother, sisters and I did a lot of random role playing around the farm. Good thing we did: Did you know daydreaming can increase long-term planning, self-awareness and creative thinking? Our imaginations ran so wild, too. We literally created our own sets, turned pajamas into superhero suits and acted out our favorite lines. All reasons why talking and brainstorming ideas with folks from different backgrounds became so easy for me as a reporter and interviewer. And now that I’m an elementary school journalism educator, my imagination has been reignited. Now, I’m helping to produce innovative student journalists who understand that creativity is vital to writing engaging content.
HOW TO PUSH PHYSICAL BOUNDARIES. Herding cattle, bailing hay and repairing barbed wire fence are only a few examples of pulling my physical weight on the farm during childhood. There are so many others — so many. Lol. But manual labor is a good thing in my book. Regular physical activity showed me I could work through pretty much anything. Once my mind locked on a project, it was hard to get me out of the zone. My body would naturally follow. It does to this very day. Because my siblings and I worked the land from kids, we’re all in decent shape and move, shake from Small Town USA to major cities across the nation. Steady physical assignments around the house and barn actually made us all feel better, helped us rest well and motivated us to get more work done. I’m now 36 and still have about the same stamina as I did in my 20s. Currently, I contribute to a revitalization garden project in Atlanta’s historic Pittsburgh Community (more about this awesomeness soon) with my student journalists. They’re so shocked about my age and strength to multitask in this space. All thanks to my farmland upbringing.
HOW TO CONQUER FEARS. Office presentations to senior leadership and guest speaking in front of folks who already think they know everything is easy business for me. They have nothing on pitch-black work nights tracking down cattle by horseback or coming across snakes and other threats on the outdoor job. Farm life constantly tests your nerves. Weather, animals and equipment at times are so unpredictable. My parents brilliantly showed us how to work through our insecurities and anxieties. Sometimes they eased us into unsure situations; other times they had us confront fears head on. Both methods made my siblings and me more resilient as we grew older. Farming definitely armed me for Corporate America, especially during my reporting days of drug busts and scandalous court cases. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt challenged my farm gal fearlessness daily in the newsroom, too. Her quote to “Do one thing every day that scares you” served as desk art that I still live by today and certainly nurtured on the land.