What was your first job? You may have worked in a restaurant in high school, or maybe in college you had an internship. My first job was in a barn, and it started before I can remember. I had the privilege of growing up on a Wisconsin dairy farm. Going out to the barn at 5 a.m. was routine in my family and working in the barn every day taught me so much. I learned the importance of hard work, how to work alongside people you disagree with (my sisters), and what it’s like to lose something you work and care for every day. My career path has led me in directions I could not have predicted. From working in greenhouses to making cheese, and even traveling the Midwest doing PR for the state of Wisconsin, growing up on a farm has prepared me in many ways for whatever may come my way.
Here are four ways that milking cows and shoveling shit prepared me to work in PR.
On a farm, there is always something to do and someone is always on the clock. On a dairy farm there is ALWAYS something to do. Chores like feeding calves and cleaning equipment are never-ending. When I started working in PR a few months ago, I noticed the two industries have similar levels of hustle and bustle. My co-workers are constantly juggling client work, meetings, staying on top of trends and reading up on current events, while also finding time to eat lunch and use the bathroom. It’s a balancing act and to be successful it is important to master the art of wearing many hats and juggling your to-dos. On a farm, someone is always on the clock. Cows need to be milked on the weekends, holidays, your birthday, and when the power goes out. Farmers need to be a phone call away to respond to unexpected breakdowns or the cows getting out. Much like farmers, PR professionals are also “on-call” much of the time, working hard to stay up to date on current events, trend jacking, or responding quickly in the event of a crisis.
The work can be sh*tty – but feels good once completed. Tasks aren’t always fun. On the farm, jobs can get repetitive and very dirty, and, in Wisconsin, sometimes very cold. When you sign up to work on a farm – or in my case are born into it – you are prepared for this kind of work. Cleaning out calf pens with a pitchfork or leveling sand-bedded stalls by hand are jobs I didn’t necessarily look forward to, but had a sense of pride about once the job was done. Working in PR, I don’t thinkthere will be many instances where I get physically dirty, but like any job, there are tasks that aren’t always fun that need to get done. Whether it is updating a media list, cleaning up your email, or meetings on top of meetings, these are all tasks that need to happen to make sure things run smoothly.
The industry is evolving. What do you picture when you learn that I grew up on a dairy farm? If you picture farmers walking around in jean overalls, sitting on wooden stools, milking cows by hand – you may need to adjust your viewpoint. On my farm, we milk our cows with automated robotic machines; it’s amazing how much farming has changed in the last 50 years. Agriculture is evolving, and just like in every other industry, technology has changed the way many jobs are done. The same thing has happened in PR. The virtual world is a different kind of beast and makes it even more interesting to figure out just how to talk to people. The internet alone is an infinite world with new things happening every day, and it takes a team of people working together to understand it.
You don’t need credit for everything you do. Working in PR you are often doing some fairly heavy lifting behind the scenes and your name isn’t on a lot of your projects. Farming definitely prepared me for this. Think of farmers as the PR company and the dairy creamery as the client. Farmers do lots of work behind the scenes (note: creameries also do a lot of work), but in the end, people only know the brands in the grocery store and not necessarily what farmers produced milk for those products. Farming taught me that you don’t always need credit to be happy with the work you’ve done.
And finally, it takes a team. Farm life means that sometimes the cows get out and things, literally, go wild. Sometimes in PR it is ‘drop everything and all hands on deck’ and the same thing goes for dairy farming. Teamwork really does make the dream work and I can’t imagine my current job or life on the farm without the help of others.
Although I won’t be wearing muck boots in my current job, I may still deal with some shit; but I’m glad that it doesn’t phase me. I have learned it takes hard work, flexibility, grace and teamwork to see results and get a job done well.