Leadership and Life Lessons From Where I’m From




5 minute read.


When you think of leadership and life lessons, your thoughts don’t normally go to where I’m from, but I think you’d be surprised. Where I’m from is the boonies. In the boonies, they don’t do a whole lot of research, interviews, writing, design, and public speaking.


Webster Dictionary defines the boonies as a location so far outside the city limits, wild animals even question your existence. And I’ve lived there most of my life.



Minnesota, Illinois, Nebraska, North Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, it did not matter. My parents, staunch God-fearing Catholics that they were, always seemed to stay clear off the radar, and were always found in the barn milking cows or in the fields making hay.


But in my case, the boonies were in Southwest Wisconsin. 


If you want to gain a little bit of insight on me, you first have to understand my father. He was a man’s man. He plowed fields on the farm. He was a medic in the army. He fought in the Korean War.


He was the very epitome of a modern day Barney Fife. Cocky and full of himself and took every chance he could get to tell you about it. Whenever you stepped one toe out of line, he was right there to NIP IT IN THE BUD! I refer to my childhood as my military service.



Source: http://mayberry.wikia.com/wiki/Barney’s_Nicknames


In the summer before I entered 7th grade, it was a bleak hot sweltering humid Wisconsin day, as it is every day during July and August in Wisconsin.


And my father said “Get in the truck, we’re going to town.”


Town?? We never got to go to town. Town was 7 miles away in a place with a population of 371 people. It might as well have been a metropolis to us.


Town was where everything was. You could get things in town like grape soda. That’s where the good stuff was, like gum and pop rocks, and jujubes. You could get tator tots in town! I said “Sign me up!” I ran for the front seat, stuck my head out the window, and started panting like a dog.


But we didn’t stop in town. We went across town over to the high school where I was introduced to the fine sport of Cross Country, with practice twice a day, which was a vicious heinous practice!


I remember thinking “What kind of crazed fool came up with twice a day practices in the dead heat of summer??!!” I had no choice but to participate. 



You can just imagine how overjoyed I was at the opportunity to work my butt off on a hot long distance run with a bunch of kids I’ve never met who also didn’t want to go on a hot long distance run.


And so the coach said to us with my father standing right there, “Go on out there and run 5 miles for starters.” I was like “NO WAY! You’re crazy man!” Well actually, I said no way in my head. What I really said was “Yes sir. But how long IS that anyway?”


Because if you do what you’re told, you’ll survive and you’ll be okay. My father didn’t actually threaten bodily harm to me, but you could tell by the look on his face, it was implied, and I didn’t want to take a chance on testing him. He wasn’t the kind of guy you wanted to mess with.



Before we took off, my coach divided us into 2 groups and wanted to send us off on different routes. I said “Why?” He said “Because I want to see which group can get back here faster.” 


I said “Well, why am I leading this group? It’s full of overweight kids!” He said, “You’re tall and skinny. It will motivate them to move faster.” I thought, “What? How does that work??” Apparently in his mind, being tall and underweight wins out over being talented and fast in Junior High Cross Country.


However, I discovered it is possible to run 5 miles in Cross Country practice with not very much effort at all. There was a whole lot of running going on while the coach was watching, but then when we turned a corner and were out of sight, we’d stop in to the nearest gas station and cool off with a root beer float and a fan.



I was NOT about to lose 5 pounds of water weight trying to power sweat in 95 degree weather for 5 miles on a some God-forsaken country road in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t afford to loose any more weight as it was.


I thought “Forget trying to beat the other team back to home base!”


All we had to do was time the run well enough so everyone would think we’d actually been out on a run. And judging by the average weight of our group and the lack of conditioning we had, I’d say that would take about 2 hours.


I tried Cross Country for 2 years, and finally said that’s enough. And so that’s when I tried other things in order to “find myself.” It’s funny, there are very few physical injuries ever reported in Forensics Club and Audio/Visual Club.


And if anyone wants to know what country kids did back in the 1970’s and 80’s, there was something called 4H Club. Just think county fairs, livestock judging contests, tractor pulls, 4th of July parades, and softball tournaments. That’s 4H in a nutshell.



So that’s where I spent most of my time as I rounded out Junior High School. 


Also, what most people did in my neck of the woods was drinking, farming, deer hunting, fishing, and snowmobiling, and probably in that particular order. We wore camouflage before camouflage was cool!


So I stand before you in what I call the Redneck Spotlight. I’m still from where I’m from in my heart…the boonies. But I am highly educated and viciously ambitious. I don’t think of myself as a redneck at all. I have overcome incredible obstacles and overwhelming odds to be where I am today.


My relatives have no idea I engage in public speaking, and they probably wouldn’t even care if they did. But I remain true to myself, because success comes in many shapes and sizes, and sometimes it comes with color coordinated socks.



The boonies will always be in my heart and in my blood. And growing up around rednecks was not the worse thing in the world. I can think of much worse things like Bubonic plague, F5 tornados, flash floods, and Miley Cyrus concerts.


But you live and you learn, and that’s what I’ve learned from where I’m from.


More great articles on research, interviews, writing, design, presentations, and public speaking are coming your way.


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