Live life without compromise: That is what I have tried to do since the moment I realized it was the only way for me to be happy.
I live life on my terms; not anyone else's. I'm happy because of it, but I won't tell you it's easy. It's not.
I think the difficulties have helped me be a better writer, to be more willing to challenge the status quo and not be so afraid of the disapproval that sometimes comes with such disputes. That seems important in an industry as tradition-bound as agriculture.
I have come a long way in life, compared with where I started. There was a time when I thought I would never amount to anything. I thought I would be stuck in some podunk town in rural Pennsylvania, working for bread crumbs and wishing things were different.
There are lots of other people who had life much worse than I did, but it could have been better. Divorce, abusive step-parents, striking out on my own at 17, a collective of bad decisions, and the inability to love myself made it hard for quite awhile.
With the help of some key individuals and the Lord's saving grace, I somehow overcame my demons and realized the potential I had no idea I possessed. It was empowering, maybe even overwhelming.
Fortunately those who helped me realize this potential stuck around for the ride and helped me progress. I've gone to college, earned two degrees, moved clear across the country all on my own, and decided on my accord to choose a life living on my terms.
That doesn't mean I always get what I want but it does mean I get to decide how to prioritize my time. Currently I'm working a part-time job at a fly shop. The rest of my time I do a lot of independent contract-type work like freelance writing, digital marketing and website management.
The writing is what I enjoy most. Specifically I like writing about things I am passionate about, like sharing the stories of successful ranchers who are sustainably and profitably stewarding the land, making a business and a living for their family with a way of life unlike any other. I truly believe Thomas Jefferson was right when he said agriculturalists are the "most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous."
It seems to me that too many people give up parts of themselves to fit the mold of society's idea for success. These missing parts aren't just dreams, they're parts of our soul, and maybe part of our own destiny. Commonly people go off to college, get a degree in something safe, and after graduation they get a nice 9-5 job, a spouse, a few kids and nice house with a white picket fence.
Not to say that isn't a nice life, but it was never for me and I'm not sure it ever will be. I tried that idea on for size. Heck, I was convinced at one point I'd follow the path of most other agricultural grad students. I'd get that PhD and then I'd be on to a nice, cushy extension specialist job at some renowned land-grant university. It turns out that wasn't what I was really meant to do at all.
I'm meant to tell stories.
I'm meant to talk about things that make many people in our industry uncomfortable.
Sometimes, I'm meant to rub people the wrong way.
I'm okay with that because I know when I read a comment or get a message from someone who has read something I've written it's worth it. Good or bad, I'm making people think. That's what matters because thinking spurs change.
For better or worse, without change we will never get anywhere better than where we currently are.
So I challenge you – live your life without compromise. Embrace change. It's not easy but the rewards are worth it.