What are the Lessons of Your Life?
As I’m watching my husband bundle up to “battle the elements” for his walk to catch the train on his way to work, I’m reminded of my childhood. As some of you know, I grew up a world away from where I find myself now (just outside NYC), on a cattle ranch in northwestern Montana. My dad had grown-up in Texas and had always yearned to have land and a ranch, and so when my brother was two and I was four, they loaded us up and headed north. Like many families, my dad’s dream enlisted all of us. He already had a full-time job as a doctor in our little town, so the rest of us were put to work to earn our keep. My mother, the artist, was on-watch during calving season from her studio, and from the time I entered the fourth grade, at 8 years old, until I was a junior in high school (old enough to get a different job), my younger brother and I had the personal-development-opportunity of feeding 200 cows every night after school. Today, as I’m looking out my window at the snow blanketing my front yard and listening to the wind howling, I’m reminded of what that entailed.
Back in the days before Gortex, staying warm and dry at 20-below-zero with the wind-chill-factor, was a feat. It was all about the layers! I’d don on my long underwear, then put my mom’s on top of those, then my jeans, then my snow pants, then my mom’s snow pants. I’d have 2 or 3 scarves wrapped around my face, with my eyes barely peeking out. By the time I’d wobble out the door about 4:30pm, into the dark, I looked like the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man.
My mother never had a problem finding me on the ranch as I could always be heard, acres away, singing at the top of my lungs. Our cows were very cultured cows. Every night they feasted to the tunes of Rogers and Hammerstein, whatever Mozart-art-song I was learning in voice lessons, or the songs from Barbara Streisand’s latest album. When I’d come in from feeding, my scarf would be frozen solid from singing and I’d actually have to chip myself out to escape.
During the summer, I’d take my act on the road, spending most of my days singing on horseback with my favorite creature on earth, my horse Moonlight (there were long stretches in my childhood in which I swore I liked horses more than people).
What I realize, thinking back on these stories, is that most of the things that have guided me through my life from that point forward, the skills that have helped me the most, have been lessons I learned on the ranch.
From the ranch I learned the meaning of hard work and responsibility. If we didn’t feed the animals, they didn’t get fed. It didn’t matter how cold it was outside. It didn’t matter if someone invited us over to their house after school. It didn’t even matter if we had a big test the next day. Feeding was our responsibility. There was no “rescheduling”. There was no “pushing it back”. There was no “out-sourcing”. It was on us to get it done.
On the ranch I learned that fear has power only if you give it power. Horses are amazing animals, they can sense fear a mile away. If I fell off and I didn’t get right back in the saddle, Moonlight would have never let me back on. Riding was one of my greatest passions. How often to we give up the things we love most because of fear?
On the ranch my brother and I learned the value of resourcefulness. If we didn’t have the strength to toss a hay bale or lift a bucket of grain, we’d find a way to get it done. We created elaborate pulley systems and levers made out of baling twine and old planks. There was no such thing on the ranch as “I can’t do it” – the only question we asked was, “How can it be done?”
But for me, probably one of the biggest gifts I received on the ranch was understanding the importance of solitude. Living 15 miles out of town, I spent a great deal of time by myself. On those nights, standing in the middle of the pasture after feeding the hay, I would stop and look up at the stars, and there would be a silence that made the world stand still. At those times I connected with myself, quieted the voices in my head, and felt such a sense of peace that I knew that everything was as it should be. That I was, somehow, okay. And as I looked up at the stars, in the silence, I would feel this unexplainable connection to the world around me. I found myself overwhelmed by the thought that other girls, just like me, all over the world, in India, in China, in Australia, in Europe, that they too could look up at the sky and gaze at the stars! That somehow we were all connected.
And what a gift that has been for me over the years, to be able to connect with myself and others. To be able to share the stars.
We all have histories that have made us who we are. Experiences that have made us stronger. And sometimes we forget how strong and resourceful we can be.
I can’t tell you that the ranch was always a great thing. It wasn’t. It was a lot of hard work. It was a lot of sacrifice. Ranching doesn’t have the glamor that people like to imagine. But the ranch made me who I am and now I can say something that I certainly wasn’t able to recognize back then: for the ranch, I feel grateful.
Know your lessons. They make you who you are. Know them and leverage them toward your best self.
What lessons can you share?
©OnStage Leadership, 2016
Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop. Click here to read what people are saying! If you’re interested in more information, or in having Kimberly come speak to your group on topics around Authentic Leadership, Influence, Presence, Engagement, Purpose in the workplace, Presentation Skills, or being BRAVE at work, we’d love to hear from you!
If you haven’t had a chance, check out my recent Tedx talk or my interview with Alise Cortez on Voice of America’s Working on Purpose Channel: Bringing Our True and Best Selves to Work: Cultivating Authentic Leadership with Kimberly Davis.