Grandma was crying at the end of the kitchen table, and hate was too mild of a word to describe the feelings the two sisters-in-law had for one another. They had been best friends in high school and had married two brothers, both of whom sat at the table in a seething anger. Grandpa had been a dominant patriarch – and since his death seven years ago, what was once a happy farm family now wasn’t. The two brothers couldn’t make decisions together, and one dysfunctional decision had led to another to the point that they had both a dysfunctional farm and dysfunctional family.  

Junkin andy
Andy (Caygeon) Junkin’s niche is helping stubborn farmers work better together. You can download ...

They said they had me out to their farm to mediate, but with the vicious words they were saying to each other, it was obvious they both intended to “divorce.” Brother from brother and sister-in-law from sister-in-law. The truth was: They just had me out to the farm to act as a judge as to who was in the right. They wanted proof and validation that they were in the right and their sibling was in the wrong so Granny would take their side.

This was an amazing farm, and they were amazing people. They were the kind of farmers anyone would look up to. However, the words coming out of the sisters-in-law's mouths were vicious and completely out of character. Seven years of dysfunction led to harsh words that couldn’t be taken back, and it was obvious that within five minutes, words would be said that would lead to the breakup of the farm.  

I looked out the window to see the grandson who they said was going to be the fifth generation to farm. He was roughly 16, and his dad was proud that he milked cows every day before and after school. The kid lived to farm.  

The kid was leading his 4-H calf in the yard, and the calf was being as stubborn as a mule. I thought it ironic that the farm was bringing out the best in the kid, yet that meeting in the kitchen was bringing out the worst in his parents. Why? His parents were being the wrong type of stubborn.

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His parents were good people, but everyone at that table had made mistakes over the past seven years, and no one wanted to own up to them. Everyone was viciously defending themselves and trying to shift blame onto their partners. They had all made production-related mistakes, made mistakes working together and not pushed themselves to be their best.  

In the 15 years I’ve been doing this, almost every farmer I have met is some guy I’d love to sit on a tailgate with and have a beer, but I also know that no one is perfect. There is no perfect farmer out there. Everyone has 5% of their character or performance that, if tweaked, could solve 50% of their issues.

How ironic is it that we encourage our farm kids to be in 4-H for the purpose of self-improving, yet once we are past the 4-H stage we pretend we are perfect and refuse to change? How is it that the farm creates such good character in a kid – yet for a farmer, too many times it brings out the worst?  

This family at the kitchen table was a devout Christian farm family who read the Bible together after each meal. Their Bible was on the kitchen table, and it was open to Matthew 7:5 (KJV) where the words of Jesus were written in red:

“Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

Now, I believe that me coming to this realization and seeing the Bible verse at the same time wasn’t a coincidence. Yet, even if you’re an atheist, this thought is profound. 

The right type of stubborn

We have to stop being stubborn with each other and start being stubborn at turning our bad habits into good habits. We have to see farming with family as a challenge to become a better farmer and person. 

Instead of stubbornly insisting that everyone else is at fault, we have to daily try to become more self-aware and open to changing ourselves.

Either we let the family farm challenge us to become a better person or let it turn us into the worst version of ourselves. How? We focus on removing the planks from our eyes and curing our bad habits by replacing them with good ones.  

So instead of being solely a mediator, my focus has evolved to focus on self-improvement. I get each family member and the family business as a team to make one simple improvement each month. In 24 months, that results in over 50 changes and it’s a different family.  

But this only works if you are the right type of stubborn. If you are the right type of stubborn, it will lead to your success. If you are the wrong type of stubborn, your demise.

Stubborn is like a two-faced coin or a double-edged sword. Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Being stubborn gives you a strength that can help you move mountains. That type of stubborn when you’re too stubborn to quit something you really want and you really love. Too stubborn to listen to the naysayers, the bad days, the jerks who show up sometimes as your partners, and stay the course. Stubborn enough to learn what to do, how to do it and to go after it in the biggest way possible, no matter the challenges. 

The most stubborn people out there are those entrepreneurs. And the ultimate entrepreneur is the farmer. We all have those bad days, struggles and dark nights. But what keeps the entrepreneur going and moving forward? They are strongly competitive and confident people. They have an often irrational commitment to persistence and develop this pathological stubbornness like no one else – a good stubborn that drives them above and beyond where most people would give up. But another thing farmers have a huge dose of and keeps the good stubborn strong and healthy is optimism – an incessant, often unbreakable joy in what they do that goads them onward. Their unshakable confidence in their ability to make things happen, and their belief almost anything is doable with the right application and ingenuity and action. Without your stubbornness, you wouldn’t be the farmers you are today.

The wrong type of stubborn

And yet, there is the Mr. Hyde. The dark stubborn that grows into entitlement, narcissism, power and control. The Mr. Hyde-type stubborn we want to shut up in the closet. Stubbornness can grow into that monster in the closet when our persistence turns into something ugly and harsh, and we become obstinate and mule-headed where we are always right and everyone is wrong. Where a person stops listening and stops improving.

When I walked onto family farms as a mediator 15 years ago, one thing was consistent. The brother who was most likely to be able to kick my ass was the first to cry. Guaranteed. Do you know why he cried? Always about the frustration of working with his dad or his sibling. I’d let him spend 45 minutes ranting about everything his business partner did wrong, and I’d fill up a page describing his bad qualities. At the top of the page, I’d put “Mr. Hyde – Monster.” Then I’d rip a fresh sheet and I’d ask him about the good qualities of his partner. At first, it would be like drawing blood from a stone to get a few compliments, and then like a dam breaking as he described his partner when he or she was at their best and was an incredible person to both work with and be around.  

That is when the crying would start 70% of the time because they were frustrated that their families could be both amazing and yet also cruel. They felt such huge sorrow because when they woke up every morning, they didn’t know which version was going to show up to work – Dr. Jekyll (Good) or Mr. Hyde (Monster).

We all have our Dr. Jekyll (hero) and Mr. Hyde (monster) sides to our personalities. The challenge is being the Dr. Jekyll you have the potential to be consistently every day and not Mr. Hyde.    

Nobody wants to work with a partner who isn’t giving it their all. Nobody wants to work with a partner who has the potential to be better yet doesn’t make the effort. Nobody wants to be around Mr. Hyde.  

More importantly, who is your family going to be in the next hour? There are those days when everyone works well together as a team, you get a lot done, and you have a lot of fun working together. Then there are days when the farm brings out the worst in you and everyone around you.

If everyone was the best version of themselves and worked well as a team, how awesome would your farm be? What hope would your farm have for the future?