Are there similarities between Eva Longoria, the Norwegian minister of agriculture Sylvi Listhaug and me? We all grew up on a farm! This week I am going back to my roots. I am home on the farm I grew up with two miles to the nearest neighbor, exploring forests and mountains with my dear sisters and, of course, working at the farm. Your childhood defines your personality and creates a foundation for your adult life! I ask – how did growing up on farm affect my choices later in life? And does the countryside produce leadership talents?
I visit my childhood valley to rarely. The urge to experience new things has lead me out in the world. With our twin boys, things are different. It is important for us that they spend some time with my family.
I have been thoughtful this week. I believe that everyone who grew up on a farm share many of the same experiences. I would not be the person I am today if I did not grow up on our family farm in Røvassdalen, a valley just below the Arctic circle in northern part of Norway.
1) Hard work, no free lunch!
My parents are of the hard working kind. During my entire childhood, I witnessed how much they worked on the farm. In addition they had side jobs. My two sisters, Christin and Hege, and I all worked on the farm. On the field, in the sawmill and in the woods. We filled out timesheets and negotiated the hourly wage with our father.
On a farm, you contribute where it is needed! I have taken this mentality with me into the world of management consulting. If I see something needed in a project, I will do it! The job is not done before it is done, and I am not afraid to dig deep.
At an early age, I realized that money does not grow on trees. You need to work for it. From sunrise to sunset. Even during the night, my parents continuously checked the thermometer. Crops freeze quickly! Natural forces, such as freezing temperatures or flooding, could easily ruin the annual income. This means that hard work was not always sufficient. I learned early on to plan for both good and bad years, in additional to making yourself less vulnerable for unforeseen incidents.
A double dose of work ethic in my genes and early work experience is my answer for those who wonder where I got my work capacity from.
2) Early responsibility makes a good leader
Most people who were raised on a farm can probably relate to this one. At a young age, you are given freedom with responsibility. You babysit younger siblings and you are trusted to be home alone from early age. As most farm kids, I learned to drive a car in my early teens. This was quickly expanded to tractors and wheel loaders. I was, usually, aware of my responsibilities. I must admit, however, that I at an early age drove a Ford Transit up a very slippery hill at home. The car ended up sideways. My mom was not very happy about it.
I also had a summer job, in addition to the work on the farm, during my teens. Being a tourist guide in Grønligrotten was the first place of work for many of the youth in my valley. Things usually went well. However, with a bit of claustrophobia, I was not very happy when the tourists wanted to crawl around in the labyrinth. You just had to brace yourself. You were given a responsibility as a guide, and it had to be taken care of in the best possible way. The tourists had to be guided in a safe manner, in both Norwegian, English and German.
This experience is a big part of me. I feel a great responsibility for those close to me, my assignments and my deliverables. And I have a strong hand on the wheel, if the going gets tough.
3) Good teamwork and safety is crucial!
A farm is a family business. Teamwork is absolutely crucial to keep things running. During lumbering work, my big sister handled the tractor and the winch. I ran with the wire around my waist up and down the hillsides. Dad handled the chainsaw. My little sister took care of the cut off branches. We rotated the tasks. We were not allowed to handle the chainsaw, and we quickly learned to be observant of which direction the trees fell.
In our spare time, the three sisters often went on small expeditions in the forest and mountains. Safety was a top priority. We had a thin nylon cord around the waist of the youngest when we hoisted her and our backpacks up steep cliffs.
Teamwork, with clear roles and good cooperation, is crucial in the kinds of projects I usually lead. The same is true for quality assurance.
4) Harsh weather creates a strong survival instinct!
The weather can be harsh up north. Autumn storms often lead to electricity outage. It could last for a long time. Kerosene lamps and candles were always placed strategically around in the house. On the way to school, we would often meet “the king of the Norwegian forest” (aka the moose), but they did not scare us kids.
The winter was often very cold and snowy. For me, Christmas means 30 degrees Celsius below zero. Cars that froze, jumper cables and antifreeze are things that must be handled as a matter of course. The Christmas dress and hairstyle had to fit inside coveralls and woolen hats.
My head is still cool in situations that distress the plans that have been made. And I still love it when it snows sideways.
5) Respect for the Earth, fresh air and good health
If you live close to nature, you get good health! Research shows that children growing up on a farm (with livestock, though) have a lower chance of getting asthma and allergies. I did not have this advantage, since we had a potato farm! However, I did a lot of running around in the woods, bicycling and kicksledding. Our closest neighbor was two miles away, so I had to use my legs all the time, both during the summer and winter.
An active life is crucial for me to survive a busy life. Many people say that they do not have the energy to exercise. I believe exercise and hiking trips give you energy.
You are branded for life, and you are proud of it!
When looking back on the country life, I feel both positive and negative feelings. In sum, the positive side wins. I strike a blow for the rural side of Norway, any time! As time goes on, I realize more and more that those of us who have grown up on farms are lucky! I am proud of my roots in Røvassdalen and Rana. It gave me a start in life that have created a strong mentality, good work ethic and a love of nature.
What are your thoughts? What did you learn from the farm life? Does the rural side create people with good leader potential? Are you the sole heir of the farm, living in the city and feeling the pressure? Are you not moving back to your home village? Or are you dreaming of becoming a farmer?
Love from, Cecilia – the potato girl who went out in the world, but never forgot her roots!