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In reflecting on my story I realized it started way back. Before I was a moody poetry major that didn’t want to be in the boring business world.

Like most origin stories you need to look at the early years.

That’s when all the messages about who you can be are imprinted.

Where I’m from

Photo courtesy of Jason Brojas

I grew up in a small town in North Dakota. My parents are so hardworking.

My mom worked as a sign painter in my grandpa’s shop. Not sure why it’s called The Shop but that alone conjures a feeling of small business. Humble but proud.

So my mom is a sign maker. And back in those days, she did hand sign painting. So artistic, so detailed. A lost art.

My dad worked in the oil field. Today you probably say oil industry. But words are important. The term “field” also implies hard work. Like, hands in the mud, sore knuckles kind of work

I remember Dad being gone a lot. But he was always a force of nature when he was home.

What I learned about working from my parents

So from an early age what I learned was both mom and dad work. Working is hard and a dad’s work usually takes priority over a mom’s.

Since mom worked for the family business her job was flexible. Dad’s Job was demanding. He had to be on call any hour of the day – and we didn’t have a lot of money.

The thing about the oil industry is that it’s cyclical. It’s Boom or Bust. So if there are opportunities, you seized them.

So all this messaging and memories add up.

  • What is work?
  • Who works?
  • What does work feel like?
  • How is it talked about?

That last question is important.

The way you hear work spoken about from a young age informs how you view it.

I never heard my parents complain. And believe me, they could have.

I don’t remember them saying positive things either. There was no joy in work – that I heard. There was discipline and satisfaction in the discipline.

That will become a theme for me.

A place of side hustle

There was also something special I saw with my parents.

The side hustle.

That phrase didn’t exist for us though.

Side jobs, extra income and scrappy resourcefulness was a way of life for my family and community.

I think the farming and oil industry created an inner understanding of ebb and flow –and sometimes feast or famine that meant everyone was working.

Getting creative.

Figuring it out.

Where did people work?

There were no corporations. No 9 to 5s. Not in my view, at least.

The steady paychecks were earned at banks and that’s honestly all I remember. Even the teachers and nurses had variable schedules and pay.

So I saw my mom mowing lawns for extra cash (later I would be a begrudging lawnmower in her fleet). 😩

My dad would do all sorts of things.

Buy chickens and sell them. Buy a snowmobile and trade it. Painting, moving, and all manners of money hustle.

My dad and I are so alike in our absolute unquenchable interest in things. He always had an approach like “How hard can it be?”

This philosophy led him to learn how to paint cars, how the chambers of the heart work, and eventually led him to build his own oil company.

The entrepreneurship in my family was also an undercurrent and would eventually become a raging river for me.

Work themes of my early life

  • Variable work
  • Unsteady money
  • Side jobs
  • Intense discipline and joy in the discipline
  • Family focus and family business
  • Mom’s job is second
  • “How hard can it be”

Stay tuned for part 2 where I start working myself!

Questions for you

  • What did you learn about working from the important figures in your life?
  • How was work spoken about?
  • What type of work did your community value?

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