Art of the Hustle

Growing up, I remember seeing very little of my father. Between his job as an ER doctor and the business he was building during any moment he could spare at home, and the few hours of sleep he tried to tuck in between – he was absent a lot. And when I did see him, my vague memories are that he was distracted, scheming, reading, making notes – always working. The fruits of this labor resulted in the development of an incredibly successful business that gave him, all of us, extraordinary pride. He chased what he loved, and he did well. In terms of examples, it was solid gold. His father was also an entrepreneur, a Jewish man who fled Nazi-controlled eastern Europe at the dawn of WWII with little more than his young bride. He earned American citizenship by enlisting and fighting for the virtues of freedom and democracy. And while both my grandparents’ families were lost to the Holocaust, my grandfather’s grit, determination – and maybe luck – meant his life was spared. They settled in Chicago where he eventually owned his own business. Although I can’t be sure (I wasn’t there), I’m assuming he also was often absent, fretting at home about his business, and took enormous pride in all the successes his company eventually achieved.

I guess I’m writing this now because of the way I’m struggling to understand exactly how to do this. The number of moving pieces that go into the development, operation, execution of a business; it’s not for the faint of heart. When that business relies upon so many factors beyond our control (weather, animal health..) well, it’s a bit of a gamble. Or perhaps it’s actually a battle of the wills: who will blink first? You or the winds of fate?

I’m tired, y’all. I’m so tired. Friday, the conventional “end of the week” for the rest of the world, is the busiest part of the week for many farmers who have already worked all week, and who must now gather and beautify their goods, harvest, package, clean, weigh, price, and then haul their products to a market where they must appear tidy and clean, pleasant and smiling in order to sell their goods to the good folks who come out to parking lots across America to buy them. It’s not a complaint, it’s a fact. I am beyond grateful for my customers and my gosh I love talking to you on Saturday mornings, but the urge to lie in bed just an hour longer is very real. It’s very intense. Instead we drag ourselves from bed, wash our faces, pick through the laundry for something presentable and gather together for four hours weekly to bring the farm to you.

Today was windy as hell, in fact someone’s tent got carried off by a ferocious gust of wind. If not for my incredibly wonderful helpers, Cindy and Bekah, who both attended market with me today, my own tent would have fallen victim to these winds. The three of us stood for four hours holding down the corners of my wee tent that sheltered not just us, but our little cheeses packed into coolers, all of our marketing paraphernalia meant to educate the masses (in the 15 seconds of their attention we can grab) about the entire story of our farm that we’ve spent nearly a decade building. I’m not a magician, so it seems like a tough trick to pull off.

At the end of this wind-battered day, one day after I spent seven hours inside the dairy hovering above a vat filled with gallons and gallons of milk carefully collected over three days, and turned it into cheese, packaged, cleaned, packaged, cleaned, filled orders, answered business-related emails and texts, updated social media with pretty pictures, established new contacts, and schlepped cheese around Austin – I’m tired. And I’m wondering now, what engine keeps this going? Is it the seed my father planted so many years ago, the work I watched him pour into his own dreams? Did he do that because of his father? What drives us to the outskirts of sanity where we quiver on the edge of madness? But is it madness or simply the pursuit of some undefined passion? I’m currently reading Rinker Buck’s The Oregon Trail, a book I casually picked up that’s turned into a perfectly timed read of the history of the American spirit, about a mass migration that pushed so many immigrant families West in the pursuit of something better although they were not certain what the better would be. The travel was treacherous, the outcome uncertain, but their spirits were unbreakable. It gives me pause, this story, so does that of my grandparents, who traveled a great distance, crossed an ocean into a country whose language and customs were foreign and sought more than just survival – they were brave enough to believe maybe they could grasp a piece of the American dream, and so they grabbed. Exhaustion has no currency when the stakes are this high, so I try not to factor it into my bottom line. Instead I accept it as a fact of this life I have chosen, and I’m proud to honor the memory of my entrepreneurial, immigrant grandparents – the determination they instilled in their son which must have, somehow, filtered down to me, as these things do. As it will, hopefully, filter down to my own children who I hope will understand their mother’s absence, and view it instead as a gift I’m giving them.

Every morning I ask my daughter “What did you dream about last night?” and every morning she answers, with no prompting, just her steady, intelligent gaze: “Goats.” It is my dream, too.

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Categories:

Dairy, Goats, Motivation

6 Comments

  • Cathy Breen

    April 30, 20171:30 pm

    Beautifully written. I had the same type Dad, he was a Veterinarian but had dreams in commercial restate too. He worked so hard and was the only Veterinarian/boarding kennel in our town for 50 years. We had a calendar for the kids and if Dad had a night call and needed help we got to go along. Our chores and responsibilities did not change for the next day. Our holidays were always started with scooping poop it did not matter if it was Christmas or your birthday. We always felt we should be paid but we were not handed cash. When each of us got ready to go to college we found out we had been paid and it would be spent on our college education. The savings accounts looked very promising, but they had been ear tagged for a greater accomplishment than chasing dog poo with the hose. I can say that was an awesome gift, but more was the incredible work ethic in 4 kids due to expectation and example. All 4 kids graduated from college and are all very gifted in their dreams. When Patrick and I started the Veterinary practice in Georgetown our kids could have been on free and reduced lunch at school. But we persevered and believed in hard work. We sent three kids to college and own the ranch we always dreamed of. I just always remember my Mom’s kind words (I think) at the worst of times–“I have never read an obituary where someone died from lack of sleep.” Keep it up Jenna and Jeremy, your rewards are yet to be seen in a variety of forms.

  • Cindy

    April 30, 201711:39 am

    As someone who grew up with an entrepreneurial father and being an entrepreneur myself, I read your Facebook posts with an insider’s knowledge of what you are saying about building your business. I’ve been there. For many years. And I’ve recently come out into the light and emerged on the other side.

    Reading this blog post about your father brought back memories of my own father. The few times I have a memory of him actually being with us (my mother, brother and me) he was there in body only. His mind was always on other things and other places. And when he was home he was always tired, too tired to participate in any kind of family life.

    One evening I wanted to read him my high school English composition. He was sitting in his favorite chair in the living room and I began reading. A few minutes into the composition I looked up from my reading to see he had closed his eyes. At first I thought he was just enjoying my composition. I read a few more lines and looked up at him again. He had fallen asleep. I continued to stand there for a minute or so, hoping he would realize I was no longer reading, wake up, and urge me to continue. But he didn’t. I turned around, walked out of the room, and that was it. The next morning he didn’t mention anything about my composition and neither did I. It was forever discarded and replaced by more important things in his life.

    I will be 61 years old this year. I have built a couple of successful businesses over the years, learning from my father not to let my business ventures take over my life at the expense of my marriage and two children. Yes, it is difficult on so many levels. However, I retain the scars and have always remembered the painful lessons learned from my absentee father, and for years I have silently thanked him for those lessons. Lessons I vowed not to repeat with my children. I think I have been successful at that.

    My latest, last, and most successful business venture was owning and operating an organic herb farm on our property in East Texas. This was my “retirement business”. Over the past 15 years my business grew to incorporate classes, herbal luncheons (cooked by me), workshops, and many herbal products. A couple of years ago I realized that, like you, I was exhausted. Mentally, physically, emotionally exhausted. I was being held hostage by the business I had built.

    I discontinued the most time-consuming aspects of my business, I sold a portion of the business, and I’m now continuing with the one product I started prior to even starting my business in 2002. This one product I primarily sell over the web and it takes just a small portion of my time. For the first time in many, many years I finally have the time to do just what I want to do, and even to spend a day doing nothing at all if I so desire. It has been quite a change I’ll admit, but a change I am most definitely enjoying.

    At the end of my life I don’t want to look back and realize I was always growing roses for other people to smell, and I had never stopped to take the time to smell the roses myself.

    Take the time.

  • Tracy

    April 30, 20179:09 am

    I admire your abilities and strength. My sister lives by you. ( Bird ) She told me about your page and I do get your posts. Keep up the great work you do. Love your page and your pictures. Your writings are fabulous as well. You should write a book. I live outside of Austin in Spicewood. Been oh so windy! Thank you for all you do.

  • Lin

    April 30, 20178:00 am

    We are all richer for the tireless work of farmers, keepers and growers like you. Austin is a better place because of your dedication and perseverance to your craft. I always love reading your posts and seeing the farm…like we are all part of a secret community. I am so thankful for the work y’all do….and boy are the fruits of your labor deelish! ๐Ÿ’•๐Ÿ’•!

  • Christy Bassett

    April 30, 20177:19 am

    Your words always speak to me. I myself am sitting on the edge of wanting to start a dairy business, but what holds me back are the same worries that you have. I love all of it- the goats, the cows, the milking, the cheese making, the packaging, the marketing. But it all takes so much TIME. And dedication. And trust that things will work out. I’ve read a few books recently that have inched me a little closer to taking the plunge. (Body of Work: Finding the Thread that Ties your Story Together by Pamela Slim, The Entrepreneaur Roller Coaster by Darren Handy, You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero). They all say similar things. You have to have passion, you have to be dedicated to the cause, and you have to work like a dog in the beginning. But it does get easier and you do get help. You’re in the trenches now, but you clearly have what it takes to get to the next platform. Keep at it and please keep writing. We’ll be watching! :)

  • Dominic

    April 30, 20175:27 am

    Thank you for the sketches. Prompted me to pause and look back in time. Much like the remembering of my father and Grandma but for the fact of Hakka surviving the Imperial Japanese. Much like growing up with perhaps the like brew, I worked hard and achieved and found myself yet still along the path. Often tired than not. Yes, the this day wind has been severe. Took a few but most of my apples, peaches, and plout. I finally removed many of the fruit bags and hope for a better tomorrow. Thank you for sharing the sketches. Cheers.