My son, Ian, is taking some time after high school to figure things out. It’s funny, Ian used to say he was “taking a year off” when talking about these 12 post-high school months. That’s because my darling boy thought he was going to figure things out in his boxers, on the family room sofa. Not hardly. For his parents, a gap year means taking time to grow and reflect away from home. That’s how my son came to learn that “nothing stinks like a dead cow.”
Ian is working on the Lasater Ranch in Matheson, CO. Ian was fortunate to find such a wonderful gap-year opportunity. The Lasater Ranch is one of the premiere ranches in the west. In fact, the 27,000 acre ranch is run by a former Fulbright Scholar. Interestingly, the ranch operates as close to nature as possible. Hormones and pesticides are not used at all. The ranch operates under the belief that survival of the fittest is “nature’s way.” Consequently, no one carries a gun and predators roam free on the ranch. For the Lasasters, everything (even coyotes) has a purpose, and the ranch’s job is to let nature take its course.
To be sure, Ian is working harder, and learning more, than he ever has before. My son, the cowboy, is growing up. I expected growth to occur, but what I didn’t expect is that many of the lessons Ian is learning in the wild west are really leadership lessons.
• The first bit of wisdom Ian shared with me was his desire to be “seen and not heard.” At first, Ian worked hard to fly under to radar so that he could figure out how things worked. As leaders, we need to remember to listen more and say less. Just like Ian, that’s how we can figure out what’s really going on.
• I asked Ian how he got bulls, weighing thousands of pounds, to do what he wants them to do. “Are you kidding? They’re in charge, but they are getting to know and trust me.” Ian is building relationships—with cows! As leaders, we move teachers forward by building trust and developing relationships.
• During his first few weeks in Colorado, Ian fell into bed, exhausted each night. He had never worked so hard in his life. While it’s true that he is acclimating to life on the ranch, each day is filled with really hard work. This lesson is not unlike our days in schools. We work this hard because it matters.
While Ian might not know the purpose for all he is doing, he is slowly growing into a man. Nature really is taking its course. My beloved son is learning that there really is no easy way and that perhaps college is a good idea after all. Time will tell. But for now, of these two things I am certain: we can all benefit from extra time to figure things out and I couldn’t be more proud of my little cowboy.