Building Resilience: Don’t Get Blood on the Turnips

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Early November 1986, hunched over rows that were the length of 3 football fields,  with muddy gloves on my hands, I dug through the wet, cold, leafy tops and grabbed onto the leaves of the stubborn root vegetable.  Giving it a violent tug, I ripped it from its root-bound bed and started trimming off the “side-whiskers.”  I expertly spun the turnip on my knee and lopped off the half-frozen top with one slice with my 12″ machete blade.  The leafy top fell to the side, and the freshly cut rutabaga plunked down in the middle row, where it would wait until we came back and loaded it up, plus the thousands of others we would cut that day.

Still hunched over, I reached for another turnip.  The work was tedious, yet rhythmic.  The sounds of the other worker’s knives swishing and slicing told me where I was in my pace.  Hearing my brother coming up beside me, I decided I needed to pour on some speed.  Grab, trim, turn, spin, lop….

Suddenly my hand felt hot, and my cold wet glove felt warm.  I started to have a sick feeling of realizing what I had done…. I dropped my machete to the ground and pulled off my muddy glove to reveal I had sliced my forefinger wide open.  A sick feeling hit my stomach and I lurched forward.  My father, noticing I had stopped cutting turned around and instantly knew what was happening.  He grabbed the first aid kit, and as he leaped over the rows to get to me he hollered “Don’t get blood on the turnips!!!”

Sitting on an upside-down pail, with my head between my knees, and white gauze being expertly wrapped on my finger by my father, my face felt hot.  Why show concern over the product before the person?  Is that all the compassion I get out here?  Don’t get blood on the turnips?

picking rutabagas
My father, Elwin Hansen harvesting rutabagas. (Falmouth, Maine)

Years later, as I run my own business, I think back to that day.  It wasn’t always easy growing up in a family-owned business.  Sometimes, when I wanted the empathy of a father, I was met instead with the practicality of a business owner.  Back then, I thought my father was unsympathetic and uncaring towards me – not hollering to see if I was ok, but hollering to protect his precious produce.  But now, years later, from the viewpoint of a business owner myself, I realize there was a reason for his reaction. 

My father knew, had any blood got on any of the turnips,  I would have contaminated the row I was working on, making the produce unsellable.  It would have meant the hard work – the work of planting, weeding, nurturing, watering, and finally harvesting – would have been all for waste.  It wasn’t just money from his pocket – it’s the money of the workers that were working beside me, the people at the wholesale market, and the people at the grocery store.  Any crop loss – even a small loss – can eat into profits.  We all lose.  Workers don’t get paid fair wages, the price of the product goes up, and that price gets passed to the consumer.  While the amount of blood was small, the consequences were high.  My father was stressing to everyone that EVERY turnip counts  – every single one.  Mishandling a few here and there – either by contamination, bruising or bad cutting, can add up to a lot of waste.

Every turnip counts.

This is the lesson I bring with me into my business.  And while I am not a farmer, I do provide a service, and I do have overhead and expenses.  Every detail, every expense, every asset must be well cared for and handled, otherwise, my business won’t profit (or profit as much) and I will “just get by.”

Just getting by is ok – if you want to play small and not make a “ding in the world,” but I know, as a Trail Blazer, you see the world differently than that.  If you make every turnip count, you will not only be able to create abundance for you and your family but for everyone that touches your business.  Your employees, your vendors, your consumers, and your community will all prosper because of your diligent efforts.

Sometimes your efforts may be viewed as self-serving, or uncaring by your employees or family members, especially when you are in protective mode.  Instill in everyone around you that has influence in your service the importance of maintaining its integrity and efficiency.  Talk to them about building resilience and sustainability.  Show them your long term plans of how your small little business can flow abundance to all who surrounds it.  Make every turnip count.

Until Then – Hit the Heights!

Follow Priscilla Hansen Mahoney:

Business Coach for Contractors

Business Coach for Contractors and Founder of Blazing Trails Coaching I help my clients “get out of their pickup trucks and on top of their businesses.” I specialize in working with skilled-trades business owners to help them streamline processes, train leaders, engage employees, and make their businesses efficient and profitable.