In Healing Takes Time, I reference how my role in the family business has changed over the last three years. A lot of things changed for me professionally, and, as such, changed for me personally. That’s the thing about working for your family’s business – they’re pretty much the same thing. I went from a position where my job creating food for staff and guests was a way to care for them into a position that was defined by being responsible for the immediate and personal care of staff, guests, horses, yaks, cows, and a donkey.
My job was no longer the abstract concept of making pancakes with love to cheer those who passed through my kitchen and became the very concrete application of interpersonal skills to maintain harmony in a team. No more, “Do you want chocolate chips in this?” now lots of, “Go here, do this, do you have questions? No? Good. Go.” The good news is that over the last three years, I have had some pretty spectacular people on my team. Many of them became friends, and we’ve made each others’ lives better in very real ways.
One of the hardest points for me wasn’t leading people, that was actually shockingly easy. Keep the rules simple, empathize, be decisive, listen, delegate, organize, and don’t forget to love each other. It’s a pretty tidy skill set, and all things I already excelled at doing. I remember in the first two weeks of my new leadership role, I realized that two particular people acting like I was in charge simply meant that everyone acted like I was in charge. Bam! I was just in charge.
One of the hardest things for me wasn’t reconnecting with my horsemanship. It had been years since I’d really focused on training a horse or teaching people how to ride. I hadn’t been handy since I was in my teens. Horses are patient teachers, though, if you’re willing to listen to them.
One of the hardest things wasn’t the schedule or the work load. In many ways, working in the kitchen was more psychologically and physically demanding. It wasn’t changing my skillset over from my highly competent abilities as a chef who scaled recipes and wielded knives with violent delight to not knowing where any of the horse meds were or what any of them did.
None of those were the hardest.
The hardest was was the everyday heartbreaks of the job. When a rider and a horse didn’t get along, when a horse comes in from the pasture injured, or when the gentlest, oldest horse in the herd has to be sold so he has a chance at living longer where the climate isn’t so harsh. See, the horses don’t have as much of a say as the staff do, they rely on me to keep and care for them. Every injury, every heartbreak, every stumble; we are the watchers and keepers of these beautiful animals, and they need us as much as we need them. As their boss, I feel pangs in my heart every time I wrap up a cut or soak a swollen leg. They can’t tell you if you’re doing a good job or a bad job. They can’t tell you they want to quit. They can’t beg you to change the schedule. All you can do is listen and hope you do the right thing.
You’ll break your heart everyday.
Which brings me to the best part of my job; the little everyday hopes that come to pass. Some of the smallest gestures from some of the most hurt horses can absolutely make the job worth it. It’s the horse who used to always be nervous taking the time for a leisurely stretch because she was napping instead of worrying. It’s the injured gelding who rests his head on your shoulder as you clean him up. It’s watching a horse who used to be deathly afraid of anything the flew around unexpectedly take one curious step when the wind whipped a hat right past him. And it’s knowing that it’s because you gave that mare a chance to trust people, that you healed that gelding without a scar, and that you were the one who helped the scaredy-cat overcome his somewhat random fear of hats flying at his knees.
You always hope, and sometimes those hopes are fulfilled in ways you wouldn’t have even dared to want.