I knew starting out I wasn’t a cowgirl – but I never claimed to be one, either. I knew the jokes around town about “the newbies that bought cattle.” I hope I don’t forget the comments because there are newbies out there who need to be welcomed into the ranching fold.
I had the pleasure of attending the Idaho Cattlewomen’s annual meeting many years ago. I remember being so nervous.
Here’s why: I am a ranch wife. I’ve been dirty. I’ve done a lot of things around the ranch. However, I didn’t grow up with it. I grew up in town. I didn’t look out over fields of crops or cattle. Growing up, I never knew the hours of work or the joy of working on the land. I didn’t grow up riding horses or moving water. Although, I had seen an animal be born – once my cat had kittens …
I know. I know. Doesn’t count.
So I’ve gone through ag life suffering from imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is feeling like you don’t belong – but with the addition of feeling like you’re a fraud. The American Psychological Association says it is a fear of being found out that you don’t have what it takes.
For years, I didn’t think I had what it took. I didn’t wrestle calves. I didn’t have stories about my family ranch. I couldn’t rope. And forget about having a conversation about EPDs. I was terrified of saying something stupid. In fact, I said a lot of stupid things and tried to laugh them off, but inside I wanted to hide.
It’s natural in agricultural circles to have conversations about cattle, crops, crazy things you did and family adventures or misadventures in ranching. I love hearing those stories.
However, I also heard so many comments about “city slickers” and “wannabes.”
I felt I could’ve landed in either category.
Often I kept my mouth shut or I didn’t try during brandings or cattle moves. It is so intimidating to be in a group of people who have done it all, seem to know it all and have the bonus of generations behind them growing them into it. At first, I tried new things, but it was obvious I didn’t know what I was doing so, after some laughs, I quit.
I didn’t want to be the ranch wife who embarrassed herself and her family.
Cooking is something I love, so I found I could cook for a crew and make it portable. I discovered tricks for putting on a spread of hearty food in the middle of nowhere. I also didn’t mind giving shots, so I felt like I could contribute a tiny bit. When our kids were little, we didn’t have family to help with the babies, so I often entertained kids during brandings. I did what I could. I even made improvement with my truck and trailer driving skills.
Anyway, when I went into the cattlewomen’s meeting years ago, I went because my husband was at ICA. I walked into the room, and the women openly greeted me. They asked me questions and, honestly, I don’t remember much, except I said something like, “Well, my husband is here at ICA, and he’s amazing. Me? Not so much.” And I blurted out that I didn’t know how to rope and I didn’t wrestle calves. At my core, I value authenticity, and these women who’d done it all needed to know I hadn’t.
I don’t think I will ever forget what happened next. One of the women looked me in the eyes and said, “Me neither.” I was initially intimidated by the group, but what followed was a discussion about what made you a cattlewoman. One of the ladies said something like, “Whatever you do to support the ranch is what makes you a part of agriculture. For some women, it is working a job in town. Others, it is doing the books. Some women raise the kids. Some cook. Some move cows, others don’t.” Basically, I was given the freedom that day to be who I was. While this ought to come from inside ourselves, it is really hard when you start as a newbie in agriculture.
We ended up moving, so I didn’t stay a part of that group, but I will never forget their kindness and how they welcomed me. They accepted me and valued me. It has really helped me to value myself.
Valuing ourselves is something we don’t talk about much in ranching. If anyone’s paycheck is going to be cut, it is going to ours, and often we only value ourselves in terms of what we are bringing in financially. However, it is important to place value in ourselves.
Imposter syndrome hasn’t disappeared for me. I have met some women who are not only phenomenal cooks and mothers, but they can outrope the guys and wrestle a calf with ease. I hold them in high regard. I am not like them. However, there are other areas that fit my skill set and bring joy – those are the areas I focus on.
The sideways looks and community whispers from my beginning years are sometimes hard to forget. I knew starting out I wasn’t a cowgirl – but I never claimed to be one, either. I knew the jokes around town about “the newbies that bought cattle.” I hope I don’t forget the comments because there are newbies out there who need to be welcomed into the ranching fold.
Marci Whitehurst is a freelance writer, ranch wife and the mother of three children. You can follow her on her blog (Cowboy Wife).