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3 Lessons I Learned About Work Ethic From Milking Cows With My Father Every Evening

Working on the family farm taught me what it really means to have a good work ethic.

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When you imagine the CEO of a company, you might see her wearing pressed suits and hear her polished shoes clicking across hard marble floors. You may not picture overalls smelling of hay or fresh milk lapping around her ankles as she lugs buckets across a barn. Yet growing up on a farm played a major role in helping me become the business executive I am today. Not to say milking cows is the only way to get there, but working with my father on the farm every evening developed a work ethic in me that paved my path for success.

Related: The 5 Lessons I Learned From Working in a Graveyard

Here are the top three lessons I learned.

1. Being a leader requires sacrifice

When I came home from school, the cows always had to come first. It was work before play, even before sitting down to have dinner. When I became a CEO, this lesson taught me to make sure the work that needed to get done was finished before I started to plan what I might do on Friday night. Hard work requires a level of sacrifice, and I learned that through my obligations on the farm. 

As a leader, this sacrifice becomes more pronounced. My dad rarely got to play. I remember times when my mom would take me to town for my band concerts, but my dad would stay behind because he still had work to do on the farm. I used to think he didn't want to come, but I realized as I grew older that he really couldn't. My dad taught me that you don't always get to do what you want when you have to do what’s necessary to lead. 

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2. Make a commitment and stick with it

The cows came first, and they needed care every day no matter what, so I learned the meaning of commitment by helping my dad on the farm. Even if I was tired or hungry, I still had to muster up the energy to carry buckets of milk across the barn for my dad. He was there every day, doing it for us, so I was going to be there for him. It was about tenacity. 

Committing your best effort through thick and thin is something to be proud of, and as a result, only the good memories tend to remain. There's nothing more picturesque than watching a young calf grazing out in the pasture, but cows are definitely not all fun and games. There are hard days and icky jobs. The awful smells and heavy lifting took up much more of my time, but working through it makes the romantic memories of watching the calves grazing all the more golden. 

Related: 6 Powerful Lessons I Learned Early in Entrepreneurship

3. Hard work is hard work

Whether you’re growing a multi-million dollar business or milking cows, hard work is always hard. My experience working with my dad taught me leadership and management skills but also the hard task of physical labor. The biggest lesson I learned in having access to both was how much they depend on one another for success. 

My background on the farm has given me a more complete picture of what hard work entails, and I know better than to ever put labor on the shelf. One of my company’s goals is to provide the management and connectivity products that will enable this country to have ubiquitous fiber-fed broadband that is universal and has symmetrical up and down speeds. The build-out of this infrastructure is going to be very labor-centric, require a lot of hard work and involve overcoming a lot of barriers, but it will pay off in the end if we train, educate and provide opportunities for keeping that labor force busy.

I may look back fondly on my experiences at the farm, but it was genuinely a lot of hard work. Just like running a company, you work your best even on the days when nothing goes as expected. Not all is glory, but everything can add up to a worthwhile experience if you take in the lessons that your hard work invariably brings.

Cheri Beranek

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Cheri Beranek is the CEO of Clearfield and a 2021 Minnesota Business Hall of Fame inductee. Under her leadership, Clearfield has grown from a concept to a market cap of more than $500 million providing optical-fiber management and connectivity solutions across North America.