[August 2, 2019] Junior leaders quickly learn valuable lessons when put to the test. One of the first things they learn is to be ready when called upon; Boy Scouts call this “being prepared.” I learned it at 12 years of age when I got a job milking cows at a neighbor’s house, and I wasn’t ready.
We lived in the “country,” a rural part of the state of Louisiana, where even the roads were mostly hard-packed dirt and electricity and running water had become available only the last decade. The kids were tough; not by inner-city standards but through living a hard life that required taking care of farm animals, bringing in money to help the family, learning in school, going to church on Wednesdays and Sundays, and doing those things father said needed doing.
It was expected that young kids were ready to take their place in the family by showing they could do chores and lead younger children in the skills of life. Girls began babysitting early, and boys took outside jobs that had to be done; all that required physical stamina, smarts, and a sunny disposition. Little did I know that our neighbor, Mr. Jacob Simons, would be the very person that understood this and helped a little boy … me.
I’m not so sure Mr. Simons needed a young boy to hand milk his cow. He gave me the job anyway. That’s the way it was when hands-on training was the way things were done. It helped that all three of his sons were also part of taking care of the household and, Jerry, my good friend had the same job. We team-milked the cow. If you never hand milked a cow, take my word for it, it’s a difficult job.1
We were paid 50 cents for about two hours of work that including prepping the cow by calming her, leading her to a milking area, cleaning her tits and the bucket, milking her without upsetting her, doing another clean-up, and taking the milk to a special container with a lid. Any error would mean the milk was unusable and a terrible waste of a valuable commodity. It taught me to pay attention to what I was told and to stay focused on the job. It also taught me about value. The job was seven days a week.
I liked Mr. Simons and his family. His wife gave me some apple pie once. He had a big family and worked hard to support them. I never realized what a sacrifice it was for him and great trust to hire me to milk his cow. I’m eternally grateful and humble for what he did.2 Today, I am a better person for it.
- Earlier this year, I wrote a two-part series on 13 Real Rules for Leaders. Today’s article reinforces those “rules.” You can read them here and here.