Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"That" Friend

You know that friend?

No, not the one who looks better now after two kids than she did in high school.
Or the one who can work on the farm all day then prepare a 4-course meal for an ailing neighbor within 45 minutes. 
Or even the strikingly beautiful one who has no self-esteem because of a series of broken homes and relationships. 

I'm talking about the "friend" who always knows just what to say to put things into perspective, sometimes without ever speaking a single word.

I love my alone time. I suppose that is the route the third child is forced to take when older siblings go to school, or Grandma's, or a friend's house and you're left to entertain yourself.

In college, between classes I would go to the top of Lilly Library and find the oldest editions of Shorthorn Country (previously Shorthorn World) I could dig up. I'd sit and study pedigrees, people in the photos and how beef animals looked like box cars rather functional cattle. 

Occasionally I would go to the Ag Administration building and study the agriculture publications on hand: Progressive Farmer, Successful Farming, Farm World, Indiana Prairie Farmer, Nebraska Farmer and more. I'd study the way the authors wrote and the photos, knowing - hoping - one day I'd put my agriculture communication degree to use. 

November, 2006 I stumbled upon a piece written in Indiana Prairie Farmer. I think the image of the young writer caught my eye before the headline did, but the simple, striking headline reeled me in. 

I threw my AXO bag on the floor, sat down in a chair outside my advisor's office and began to read, "‘Urgent’ jeopardizes ‘important’" by Holly Spangler. 

‘Urgent’ jeopardizes ‘important’
By Holly Spangler
November 2006
As I sit here writing this column just a few moments before midnight, my to-do list for the week looms darkly ahead of me. An impending work deadline. A preschool class to organize by Wednesday. An all-day play date on Thursday. Another work day on Friday. A fundraising effort to coordinate by Friday night. Houseguests on the weekend. A house to clean, a wall to paint, a yard to mow. Laundry. And I think that I’m playing for church on Sunday. 

Oh yeah, and we’re in the thick of harvest, too. 
It’s classic busyness, just like so many of you experience. Too much to do and not enough time to do it. And don’t forget children to nurture, meals to lovingly prepare and swings to be swung “higher this time, Mom!” 

Besides all the work to be done, what’s troubling me lately is the confrontation between the urgent and the important. The urgent being those things that are in your face demanding that you accomplish the task, while the important sit quietly (or sometimes not so quietly, as in the case of small children). Particularly this week, citing the  above list, the urgent is threatening to overtake us.
And so it is for farm families everywhere. Many of us are coming off of harvest this month, looking forward to a slowing of pace by the end of the month. The urgent is winding down, and the important has been waiting. Harvest widows are about to be widowed no more (at least until next spring, anyway). 
Lonely season
Yet for some families, Dad doesn’t just disappear during busy times. One reader recently shared that she and her kids feel like orphans because her husband doesn’t make time for them, adding, “not just during the busy time of year, but always.” 
It’s hard to imagine what has led this husband to make the choices his wife describes. However, farmers and other self-employed folks tend to have a lot of characteristics in common. A drive to  succeed and a good work ethic do make for successful entrepreneurs. 
Yet we all know plenty of self-employed people who have personalities that are, let’s say, not conducive to working with others. That’s why they’ve never worked for anyone else. And their poor people skills extend to their families, as well.
So it becomes easier to make the farm the scapegoat. They use work as an excuse not to spend time with family. And ultimately, that easy scapegoat becomes your family’s biggest resentment. 
Wives who resent the farm don’t want to be involved. The gulf between husband and wife widens. 
Kids who resent the farm don’t tend to stick around — emotionally or geographically. And the gulf between parents and adult kids widens.
It’s not hard to see how the consequences of choosing work over family can last for generations. 
So what’s the answer? 
Balance is never a quick fix, but a practice. A conscious choice of the important over the urgent.
The German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote, “Things which matter most should never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” 
And it’s never easy to keep your eye on that ball. 
I recall one night in college, a friend implored me to join a group of girls in a late-night road trip. “What will you remember in 10 years: this quiz you’re studying for or this road trip?” she asked. 
Well, exactly. I don’t have any idea now what I was studying for back then (and apparently my grades didn’t suffer for it, because I’d remember that). But boy, did we have fun on that road trip. 
So tomorrow I’ll get up, make breakfast for my little importants. Then we’ll go see if we can get that swing to go any higher. And somewhere along the way, the wall will get painted and the house will get cleaned. And if it doesn’t, it probably didn’t matter that much anyway.

- Spangler is a Farm Progress field editor

She spoke to me. 
Big time. 
I made 15 copies of the article and sent it to influential folks in my own life at that time. It was something anyone could stand to hear. 

I also made a copy for myself and hung it in my sorority room. 
When I lived in Washington, DC it hung next to my vanity and I looked at it while I got ready in the morning. 
Today it hangs on my inspiration board, filled with letters and photos that serve as a constant reminder to make time for the important. 

Fast forward 6 years later....

I received a message from my Facebook friend (whom I've never had the opportunity to meet) and agriculture communication colleague, Holly Spangler. 

That gal spoke to me in the hallway of the Ag Administration building five years ago without ever saying a single word.

She had stumbled across Jean's Boots Are Made For Talking and read the post about my Dad and his start in the Shorthorn business. She introduced herself and asked if she could share it on her blog, "My Generation - A closer look at life on a young farmer's operation" on the Prairie Farmer website.

I was flattered. 
I was also amazed that the gal who's motivation - and headshot - was plastered on my bathroom wall, watching me brush my teeth for years, had any interest in sharing our story. 

She did, nonetheless. 

I began my response to Holly like this, "As strange as this sounds, I know very well who you are......"

More than a year later...

Over Labor Day weekend I rushed around trying to get the terribly important things done.
I searched darn near every website known to mankind to find a new vehicle to replace the one recently totaled. 
I worked on a powerpoint for work. 
I edited photos for a customer. 
I browsed a cookbook for a Sunday night appetizer.
I emailed customers of Bowman Superior Genetics who are interested in certain bred heifers.
I tried - desperately - to get my house in order. 
I was completely overwhelmed on a holiday weekend. 

Finally, I sat down to sort through a stack of mail: insurance paperwork, an ambulance bill, expired birthday coupons and junk.
I found a birthday card that really made me smile. I took it to my office to pin in on my inspiration board. 

Cluttered. I had trouble finding justifiable space.

I removed one tack and a dusty old magazine clipping fell on to the un-vacuumed carpet. 

‘Urgent’ jeopardizes ‘important’ by Holly Spangler.

Some friends know just what to say to put things into perspective, often without ever speaking a single word.

The urgent can wait.
The important can't. 


  1. I needed this reminder too. I want a copy to hang on my bulletin board -- thanks for sharing!

  2. Lindsay,
    Our mutual friend Tom White shared this with me today and I have to say it is one of the nicest gifts I have received in a long time. Beautiful work. Thanks for sharing the gift. Matt Sutton-Vermeulen

  3. shorthorn girls seem to always find their way to the important stuff. well said.