A middle school student, from a town not far from Hagerstown, was given the assignment to job shadow someone working in a field that might interest him down the road.
His top choices for a future career – at age 14 – were a pediatrician (should a student spend their day in a medical office during flu season?), a preacher (He gets weekly insight from this field every Sunday and at youth group) and lastly, the agricultural field. He chose to spend his day at our local farmer-owned cooperative.
I had a meeting that day with Harvest Land’s agronomist and the gentleman that this student was shadowing for the day, Harvest Land’s Chief Operations Officer. The three of us discussed plans for an upcoming presentation we were giving at Ball State while the student sat in quiet observation. After collaboration over a meal, we engaged the student by explaining to him our individual paths that lead to where we are today.
It was a really valuable conversation. Not only did I learn about the very unique roads my former coworkers have taken to get to the successful levels they’re at currently, but I also noticed a trend that I think is worth sharing with you.
One employee never went to college; they went straight into the work force out of high school. One employee went to a highly accredited 4-year university (after turning down an offer at Notre Dame) and even went on to attain their Master’s. One employee graduated with a bachelor’s degree in a non-agricultural field.
All three were leaps and bounds above the level – both in position and pay – in which they were first hired (one started at $1 an hour – and the year wasn’t 1929). All three shared oddly similar stories when visiting with the job-shadowing-student. None of the three ever turned down a job.
Sweeping the shop floor, answering phones, tying feed sacks, mixing chemicals, making the office coffee (which could be comparable to mixing chemicals), washing trucks, delivering meals to the field, cleaning up after meetings or guests, taking out the trash, sweeping out bins, working in the pit, loading trucks with bagged feed, painting tanks, making parts runs and more. These were just a few of the things these highly successful adults did in their early careers.
“Were you hired to do that?!” the student asked the COO.
His response: “No, I wasn’t. But it needed done.”
What a lesson that can resonate with today’s students about to begin their careers. There is a strange expectation from many who are early in their career that they will get hired into a middle management position and climb the ladder of success by starting on the third rung. Today’s work force doesn’t work that way. The workforce in 2007 didn’t work that way. The work force in 1997 didn’t work that way. The work force in 1987 didn’t work that way. Do you notice a trend?
What an advantage someone will have if they choose early in life to do the work that needs to be done, whether it is written in their job description, or not. Those who keep the phrase “That’s not my job,” off their lips will have a far greater advantage over those who use it.
Now, this isn’t giving every supervisor across America permission to take advantage of those who work hard.
But I offer this encouragement to those who want to be successful in their field of choice: If you’re willing to do more than what is expected of you, more opportunities than you expect will come your way.
I believe that farm kids get hired and promoted regularly because they understand that there is work to be done, no matter who does it. They come from a place where 5:00 PM simply means that there are still four more hours of daylight and work ahead of them. They come from a team that doesn’t clock in or clock out – their work begins when the boots go on and it ends when they come off…and then they have to eat dinner with their co-workers.
Farm kids understand that even the bosses have to do the dirty jobs sometimes, because they’ve seen their grandfathers use auto steer in the brand new tractor in the same day that they saw him breaking his back while picking up rocks out of the field.
I encourage those early in their career to take full advantage of the opportunities to do many different jobs – the good, bad, and ugly – when given the chance. Not only will it offer you new experiences, it will expand your skill set and build your character.
And who knows, it might start a really enlightening conversation in 30 years when you’re being job shadowed by an eager middle schooler trying to figure out the world.

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