My brother-in-law, Rodney, is a farmer of the most admirable kind. He farms, despite the heartbreaks, hard times, hot sun and little pay, because he loves it. Not even the relentless stronghold of healthy kudzu could choke the passion for farming from him. He is devoted to the land and what it brings. Good or bad.
One day, he was helping me out by trimming some trees and using his big ol’ tractor to pull up some unwanted bushes. His shadow, Adam, a young man who works for him, was, well, shadowing him. When Adam is not helping Rodney on the farm, he’s in college. A bit half-hearted, probably. But he’s there.
“What are you going to do when you graduate?” I asked.
He grinned and shrugged his shoulders. “Aw, I don’t know.”
Rodney spoke up. “He thinks he wants to be like me and carry a chainsaw around.” Rodney jerked the cord and it started up with a growl. “I tell him ... it’s simple. Just do what you love.”
A good piece of wisdom. I nodded, smiled and said, “That’s the best advice in the world. I’ve always done what I love and it’s been very good to me.”
I am always mindful and forever grateful that I can make a living by stringing together words into sentences and paragraphs. I have been blessed to live a life of adventure, excitement and uniqueness, simply by following the draw of my heart. It has been as fulfilling to my soul as a home-cooked meal of biscuits and sawmill gravy are to my stomach.
By coincidence, the following day, I received an e-mail from a 17-year-old girl who asked for my advice on following a career in sports journalism. A flashback of memories flooded my mind including that of a nervous high school girl asking a skeptical editor for a chance to cover sports. He gave me the chance and the lucrative sum of 10 cents an inch for any story that appeared in print. Once, I invested 12 hours into a story that netted me $1.20.
Almost always, I was the only female in the press box and on the sidelines. But from that first job in sports, I went from a weekly newspaper to a daily to USA Today. From Washington, D.C., I went straight into a full-time job in NASCAR, becoming one of a handful of women who worked and traveled with the circuit.
A slight chuckle slipped my lips as my mind rang with the words from my long-time friend, car owner Richard Childress, a few years ago as he looked across the NASCAR garage that was swarming with young women scurrying around, working.
“You were a pioneer here,” he said. “A trailblazer.”
I grimaced. “That sounds so old.”
He put his arm around my shoulders. “It’s a high compliment.”
There are many more opportunities for women in sports today than when I was a youngster starting out. Back then, it wasn’t always easy. In fact, I rarely recall any easy moments. Cranky editors and skeptical coaches and players had to be convinced that a woman could report and write sports in the same league of male sports writers. The playing field was far from level. But not all games are easily won.
Here’s some advice for youngsters wishing to follow their dreams:
• Find a job in the field you want to learn. Work for free, if necessary. On the job-training is better than any classroom course. And, you have to pay for those.
• Stay the course. Trudge through rejection and adversity.
• Work hard. Don’t let anyone out-work you. Prove yourself.
• Take on extra assignments. Don’t complain. And never act self-entitled.
• Find a mentor and listen carefully to every word.
Rodney, though, said it best: Figure out what you love and do it. It’s a guaranteed game winner.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should).” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.