As my flight left the ground early Sunday morning, I looked out of the window at the patchwork of Iowa farm fields with their straight rows of corn and beans, green fields dotted with livestock and family farms, and marveled at the simple beauty of the place I call home. I’m certain others look out of their windows and find the scene simple or perhaps even boring. For me, the beauty goes beyond what my eyes see, and deeper to who I am. This is the place that shaped me.
I think by most standards my upbringing in a small Midwestern town is not unusual for someone my age. My dad was a farm equipment mechanic and had a saw sharpening business on the side. My mom was a bookkeeper and babysat children after school in our home. They were both raised on farms and neither was a stranger to hard work.
We had a big garden and we ate from it all year long; what we didn’t eat fresh in the summer we froze or canned to eat the rest of the year. Mom made a lot of our clothes. Dad fixed things when they were broken. Everyone in town knew you and knew what you were up to. That had its benefits and drawbacks, but in the end, everyone looked out for each other and if you needed something, there was always help. Faith and family were at the center of everything we did and shaped my value system.
That place – and the people I encountered there – made me who I am today. My work ethic comes from parents who were always busy, but never too busy for the things that mattered – family, friends and neighbors. My sense of fairness came from watching how they engaged with others with honesty and integrity. Most activities, whether work or fun, involved everyone – boys, girls and all ages contributing to the best of their ability. The only limits I had were those I put on myself.
My parents were – and still are – so resourceful. There was always a second or third use for something and they are terrific problem solvers, so we learned how to get things done no matter our resources. No job was too big, too small or too dirty. For me, a paper route, weeding bean fields, detasseling corn and babysitting were how I learned about the working world. At a young age I learned the value of a dollar, how to save and when to spend – and the repercussions of doing one or the other without thinking things through.
When you live in a small town you quickly learn about personal accountability; if your parents don’t hold you accountable, then someone else’s parents or your teachers will. You could also stumble (and when you did most people knew about it), but when you took ownership and learned from your mistakes, they would help you get back on your feet.
It’s been more than 25 years since I’ve lived in Iowa, but it’s always with me. It’s there when managing a team, delivering a project or encouraging a colleague. It’s there on the days I don’t think I have enough budget or people to get the job done (and don’t we all have those days?), and find a way to make it work. It’s there when projects require working early mornings, late nights and weekends. It’s there when everyone pitches in (many hands make light work, you know), and when we celebrate each other with potluck lunches and homemade birthday cake.
A new class of summer interns recently started at JDA, meaning that for the next 11 weeks our company will be the place that shapes them. The ways we engage with them, involve them in projects and embrace them fully into our culture will influence the kind of professionals they become. I’ll look to pass along a little bit of the Iowa goodness that has guided me throughout my career. This summer, how will you share the gifts from the places and people who shaped you to impact others?
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