During graduate school, I took on many different jobs to make ends meet, but none was as educational as working on a cattle ranch in North Texas. There I was introduced to Hereford culture, and I must conclude that cattle are stupid.
I am very thankful for the financial support I received through teaching and conducting research in graduate school, but there were some days when I needed more. Desperate times called for desperate measures. So when my budget got tight, I would take on an extra job. One such venture involved herding cattle into a stockyard so that they could be dehorned and vaccinated.
This may sound simple, or even romantic, but it wasn’t. Cattle lack the drive and focus necessary to adhere to a strategic plan. Their lives are genuinely centered on gastronomic fulfillment. Cows eat the grass at their feet until it is gone, and then they move on to the next clump of foliage they see. This is not a planned event, nor is thought given to long-term objectives, so it is difficult at times to convince cattle of the need for change.
On the other hand, I was very compelled and my mission was clear. Drive the cattle into the pen, give them their meds, trim their horns, and collect my cash. I dressed appropriately in a baseball cap, an old tee-shirt, jeans and my boots. I was also given the keys to an old pickup truck, so that I could “nudge” the cows along if necessary.
The round-up proceeded smoothly. Yelling, honking the truck horn, or waving my arms wildly was generally enough motivation to ensure buy-in from the herd; however, there were two hold-outs: a cow named Bessie and a bull named Frank. They had recently given birth to a love-child which was hidden in a clump of mesquite trees.
I was told by the lead man, Bubba, to grab the calf and stand in the back of the pickup while he drove slowly toward the pen. This plan was meant to incentivize the herding process for Bessie, who in turn would incentivize the process for Frank. However, Bessie was more concerned about the grass than she was about her calf, so I was told to “twist the calf’s ear a little bit, so that it’ll talk to its mama.” Bubba killed the truck to make the calf’s wail more audible to Bessie.
As instructed, I twisted the calf’s ear; it simultaneously squealed and became incontinent. Hearing her baby in distress, Bessie sprang to the rescue jumping half-way into the pick-up. The truck lurched and I slipped on the now wet bed of the pickup toward Bessie. Luckily, Bubba restarted the truck and drove it toward the mark. With calf in hand, Bessie in pursuit and Frank trailing along behind, we completed our mission according to plan. I got my money. Bessie was reunited with her calf, and surrounded by a herd of heifers, Frank was also content.
Don’t be like the cattle in this story. Set yourself apart from the herd by planning for your future. Consider where you want to go, what you want to accomplish, what will motivate you to change, and how you will encourage others to help you in your plan.
David Harwell is the Assistant Director for Industry Member Programs at the American Chemical Society. This article was originally published in the chemistry.org newsletter on July 2, 2007.
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