Work-Life-Balance on a Farm?

It’s a hot topic right now, this balance between work and life. And it’s a topic that I’ve at times tackled wrongly, from all directions.

The challenge for me is that I love my family, AND I love my work. And, most weeks, I feel like I’ve done neither one justice!

I’ve come to conclude that perfect work-life-balance is a myth. For me, I think there will always be a tension there.

Fortunately, working in agriculture allows for what I will call “work-life-integration.” (I imagine some other professions allow for the same.) Follow along with me here for a minute… Instead of attempting to split my time into compartments, I’ve found that there’s often a chance to overlap “work” and “life.”

For example, Rachel and I spent 20 minutes together this afternoon relocating a navigationally confused steer into the correct pasture. It was work, for sure, but also allowed for a nice stroll with my wife through sunny pastures.

Back at the house, we’ve been bottle-feeding lambs. This makes for a great family activity with a toddler and a preschooler, both of which are excited to be involved. Lambs bring a new meaning to the concept of taking work home.

Other opportunities in our industry (growing farm-to-table wine and food,) include working events and hosting wine tastings with Rachel. Both are certainly work, but can make a fun date at the same time.

If this seems to you like shameless propaganda for the family farm, you are right. Farming is a pretty great gig, one that I recommend wholeheartedly.



Border Collies, Labradors and Sales Managers

Border Collie2 If you’ve ever owned a Border Collie, you know that they have a simple purpose: Border Collies collect sheep (or ducks, or cattle, or even people at a party) into tidy groups, and move them around. For a shepherd, there’s nothing more useful than a good Border Collie to gather a flock and put it in a pen.

If you’ve ever owned a Labrador, you know that Labradors also have simple purpose: Labradors fetch ducks (or geese, or sticks or anything else that fits in their mouth) and brings them to a hunter.

For a hunter at the edge of a pond, there’s nothing more useful than a Labrador. A Border Collie, on the other hand, would be useless. The finest Border Collie in the world would not swim to fetch a duck. It’s just not in his programming. At the same time, a Labrador would never fetch a flock of sheep. He might fetch a single sheep if you shot it for him, but never the whole herd.

It turns out the concept of Border Collies and Labradors also applies to people.   Have you ever hired a person (or been hired) for a job that didn’t fit? (I’ve tried both, unfortunately!) No amount of effort or training will turn a great sales manager into an accountant. But, given the right job description and resources, that same sales manager becomes unstoppable.


Great Expectations

I had an enlightening incident with a major retailer last month. Let’s call them Walmart, and let’s say I placed an order for a children’s swimming pool using their site-to-store shipping option.

The confirmation email said the pool would arrive at my local Walmart after two weeks. That’s longer than Amazon. But, Walmart offered the item much cheaper, and that made it worth the wait. I was happy with the promise.

But, after two weeks, it hadn’t arrived. When I called customer service (an epic maze of phone robots), they said it hadn’t left yet. They promised instead to deliver it to my house in another two weeks. But, after two weeks, it again hadn’t arrived. It took an additional two days.

At first, I found all that very irritating. Then I began to consider why it was frustrating me. I thought, what if the retailer had promised delivery in five weeks, and then delivered in four? Would I have been angry then? Much less so. Why? Because it wasn’t really a matter of the time. It was a matter of trust. They made a promise, and they broke it.

Zappos.com, the world’s biggest shoe retailer, has learned this concept and flipped it around. Instead of promising a bit too much and then coming up short, they intentionally over-deliver. If you order a pair of shoes from Zappos.com, they will likely arrive faster than promised, by design. The result? Customers rave to their friends about the over-performance.

I think the lesson here is that meeting expectations builds trust, and trust keeps customers. Exceeding expectations builds trust even faster, and makes customers rave to all their friends.



Is your glass half full?

Jess Arnsteen’s is. I recently had the pleasure of meeting this young fellow farmer working in California. He has a degree in History and Philosophy. When he graduated from school, people asked him what he was going to do with a degree like that. His answer was “Whatever I want.” And what does he want? He wants to farm. Jess currently is the farm manager at Parducci Vineyards, raising all kinds of vegetables, fruit, lamb and pork. That’s almost as strange as an economist turned ranch girl. I’ve seen this before.  

 Do you do what you love despite your background?