April 2012

Last month, I “regaled” the members of the Farm Bureau with my first installment of the life lessons I've experienced that now guide my life.  In last month's column, I reported to the world that I had been doing some thinking about my life lessons as some of my children “are building their own” these days! “Life Lessons” are powerful and lasting experiences that have a way of shaping the actions, reactions, decisions, viewpoints, and direction of an individual from that point forward.

I also confessed to being a self-declared parent of “vast” wisdom. I am pleased to see my children roll their eyes when I shared in an unsolicited fashion the life lessons I've gained growing up. I've concluded that the eye rolling is a sign of vast respect and utter agreement. Perhaps, I will begin using the eye rolling technique to show others my vast respect and utter agreement for their viewpoints. I hear that eye rolling is the latest in business etiquette for how to get ahead in the corporate world.

As I’ve told and retold my life lesson parables to my children, I have noticed that the vast majority came from my experiences with farm life. It will not be a surprise to most readers to know that farm life provides ample opportunity for freedom, responsibility, choice, and trouble. Many of my life lesson memories lean towards the “trouble” category.

So, let the lesson’s and trouble continue:

Lesson Four: Learning Responsibility through a hose…the hard way. 

I don’t know that there is any “magic” to farm chores, however there is a long held stereotype that doing chores on the farm teach responsibility. Obviously, there are other non-farm ways of teaching responsibility to a child including chores around the house, lawn care, paper routes(there are still paper routes right?), and doing odd jobs for neighbors.

On the farm there are always a plethora of jobs that a kid can do on the farm is only natural that parents assign those jobs early. My parents were “good” at assigning chores during my early impressionable years and I must confess, those chores made an impression on me.

Let me throw out an example…a chore that seemed like such a simple task. Each day, I was supposed to go out and check to verify that the pigs had sufficient amounts of water. This usually meant turning on the water faucet to use a hose to fill a large holding tank for pigs to drink from. No problem Dad! Except...

  • There were times when I forgot to check which usually meant I was reminded with Dad's stern voice in my ear.
  • There were times when I procrastinated because I was having more fun doing what I was doing.
  • And , there were several times when I turned the hose on, was distracted by something insignificant or I was bored so I left my station.  Invariably, the water tank overflowed and the spillover created huge mudbaths, lakes and mess.
Okay. Most of the time, it was no big deal with no significant issues or ramifications. However, as a part of a 4-H project, my dad gave me responsibility of care and raising of six pigs. This was not Dad's project (I was reminded several times) but my project.

My careless approach to chores became a problem one very hot and humid day in August when the pigs ran out of water. Guess who wasn't responsible enough to fill the water for those pigs that day in August?  That day had significant impact...my nonchalant attitude resulted in one of the pigs dying from heat exposure.  A couple of other pigs came very close to perishing. The “look” my dad gave me, I carry with me today. This was a powerful lesson on “responsibility and consequences”.  Responsibility doesn’t disappear just because you don’t feel like having it. 

Lesson five: The Field does not “lie”!

When I was a kid, “walking beans” was a common farm job suited for those that had time on their hands, took minimal skills and little thought. For those who may not know what “walking beans” refers to, it is simply the process of walking through a soybean field with a hoe or a weed hook, using the tool to remove the weeds. It was a perfect job for kids during the summer.

Common weeds in the soybean fields included volunteer corn, button weed (also known as butter print or velvet leaf), smart weed, pig weed, giant rag weed, milkweed, jimson weed, cuckelburr, and morning glory. Each weed looked significantly different than the soybean.  Identification of “which was a weed and which was a valuable plant” was not an issue! However at issue, or me at least, was the accuracy of weed removal (I tried to leave a few bean plants so my dad would have something to harvest), spotting the weeds due to carelessness, lack of vision, and rushing the job. It was very easy to see the weeds growing taller than the soybeans and removing those weeds. The weeds growing under the soybean plants were more difficult to find.

Here's the thing… It was very easy to rush the job and take care the weeds that were obvious, growing above the soybeans. Completing the job to get out of the heat, sun, wet soybeans, and do something more pleasurable was big motivation to hurry.

The saying “a lazy man does twice the work” comes to mind as I can recall learning that one doesn't want to rush the job of walking soybeans. The soybean field looks spectacular that first week after you completed with all of the obvious weeds removed. Unfortunately, those weeds that were missed growing under the soybeans have this way of accelerating their growth processes and in just a few short weeks, that same immaculate looking soybean field looks overgrown like a jungle. Not only is it an huge obvious display of your work for your employer (in my case usually my father) but to all of the neighbors far and wide. Those same neighbors who could see your resume of work proudly displayed as they drove by every day! What you think the chances are that those neighbors would want to employ an individual with such a resume?

Obviously, the lesson learned was that putting the time in and doing a quality job the first time is everything when it comes to work performance... That field did not lie back then and the field of life does not lie now!

  Readers may contact Bob Rohrer at ccfb@cookcfb.org