I never thought of there being a downside to learning self-sufficiency. But now – as an adult – I realize that I am too used to solving problems on my own, not collaborating with someone I am working with or in a relationship with.  Working by myself so long, I have become resourceful, but I don’t always ask for help. Because as a teenager I couldn’t ask for help – it wasn’t readily there.

When I was around eleven, my father started having me milk the cows alone. My brother and him had a falling out, which left an opening for someone to milk. By then I had been milking with my brother for two years. So I was familiar with the job, but still sometimes intimidated by the cattle. We had a ten stall run through pipeline, with electric in and out doors and an electric fence that pushed the cows up closer to the building. And to keep everything running by myself I had to hustle.

My Dad placated me by saying that if I had trouble in the cow parlor, I could easily find him and have him help me.  Trouble could come in the form of a cow not standing in a stanchion, a cow kicking me, a cow kicking off a milker and breaking it, or several cows doing all of that all at once. In those first few weeks I was kicked in the leg, fell down in the gutter behind the cattle and could see cows kicking above my head while I crawled to the door.

My Dad’s solution was inadequate. First of all, it was difficult finding my father – I would have to run all over the farm looking for him. Then he would want to finish what he was doing before he came to help me. Because this took so long before I could return with Dad, I would take all the milkers off the cows so that the cows didn’t milk dry while I was cavorting after my father.

Cows LOVE consistency, schedules.  Standing in the stanchions needlessly irritated them. Many of them would poop in protest then kick me when I returned. Cows are sensitive. To them, the fact that my Dad was coming into the milk parlor meant that there was trouble. It upped the ante from me solving the problem more quietly by myself.

After hunting my father down several times, I opted to solve my problems myself. I was all alone milking cows, so I learned to be self-reliant. I learned that if a cow didn’t want to stand in a stanchion, if I left them standing in the aisle way for a few minutes they felt absurd and went to stand in the stanchion. I realized that I could solve most everything without the physical violence I witnessed the men use. Milking by myself, I became a more self-confident person. I reasoned how to solve issues, knew that problems would happen and that they could be dealt with. In my career, my out of the box thinking in my sales job came easily because I had learned creative problem solving.

However, solving a problem without asking for input from others isn’t always the best. We all have blind spots, and having information from another perspective can be eye-opening. Without asking someone what their input is, it feels to them that they don’t matter. Plus. there is the extra benefit of becoming closer to someone by solving situations with them. You realize that you are building trust together, plus that you don’t have to carry a burden all by yourself.

I now believe that in partnerships- like relationships- it is a good idea to make decisions together. It makes a relationship stronger to work through together what the best solution is, especially if the outcome affects both of you.

Self-reliance is a really great trait and I’m glad I have it. Now I am working on being able to ask for help sometimes too. Because I don’t want to exclude myself from the relationships and collaborations that are formed when you pool ideas together for the common good.

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