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.