Sometimes you have to take a step backwards to a get a clear view. This week, as corn was setting new all-time highs, I found myself mired in the numbers trying to make the decision to buy or pass on a piece of land that we’d been leasing. I found myself succumbing to a mood of almost doom and gloom.

I hang out with a crowd of people who are usually pretty positive. But one friend was getting ready to send 3,000 head of fats in the next 45 days and expecting to lose $100/head. Another has a beautiful family operation, but in planning for the transition of his dad’s operation to him and his siblings, it’s become obvious they’ll have to sell the ranch to make it work for everyone. Still another friend called to say he’s struggling to salvage a marriage that, in all honesty, has suffered from the pressures of trying to provide for a family in the production side of the cattle industry. As you might guess, my resulting attitude wasn’t necessarily one of optimism.

If you’ve ever found yourself past the age of 40 and questioning if you’d taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way, you know it’s not a good feeling. Time seems like it’s running out.

Ever since I was nine years old and decided I was going to be my own form of Renaissance man – horseman, cattleman and writer – my vision has been clear. I had a creed for each and understood my priorities – God, family, career.

Still, somehow my enthusiasm of youth was blown away in the devastating Colorado winter of 2006-2007, and I feel forever changed. I’d been humbled, and many of my core beliefs challenged and found to be wrong.

As I stood at one of those crossroads in life and looked down the paths available to me, things suddenly seem different. It’s going to take far more than just hard work and perseverance. For the first time in my life, I experienced both severe doubts about being able to reach the destination, and uncertainty about which path to take. My mood was rather bleak.

I truly believe God talks to us, if only we are in the mood to listen. Out of nowhere came a package in the mail from a nice Montana woman that contained a book entitled “The Book of Positive Quotations.” What made it special was the uplifting letter and note she sent with it.

Upon opening the book, the first three quotes I encountered were:

  • “Patience is a key to success, to victory. Who longest waits most surely wins.”
  • “He that can’t endure the bad will not live to see the good.”
  • “What one has, one ought to use; and whatever he does, he should do with all his might.”
Those quotes didn’t change the uncertainty nor instantly replenish my zest for life, but they did get me to thinking about my attitude and the amazing truth that attitudes shape realities.

At midweek, I drove a group a bulls to a famous Texas ranch. The country was beautiful, but the real value was the cowboy I met who took delivery of the bulls. I’m not sure what your picture of a cowboy is but this gentleman embodied mine, and I can't pay anyone a higher compliment.

He had a couple of really good dogs, a string of pretty good horses, and a daughter he thought had hung the moon. And while the ranch’s cows may not have had his name on the deeds or titles, they were as much his as the owner’s. He was a cowboy in every sense of the word and loved every moment of it.

We were driving over to look at the replacement heifers and he motioned toward the boom in the energy patch. They were paying $25/hour with great benefits to work on wind turbines and the like, he said, and I have a feeling his salary on a per-hour basis wouldn’t come out looking nearly so good comparatively. But he just laughed and slapped his leg, saying, “I’m not sure what you have to do to work on one of them wind turbines, but that’s a job, and this is a lifestyle.”

This man was honored to do what he did and he was good at it. And I don’t have the words to describe the joy one gets being around someone who has a passion, a zest, or an enthusiasm for life that’s so strong it’s contagious. Only a West Texas cowboy can talk about a rich oilman buying a neighboring ranch and say it in such a way that you can tell he’s genuinely sorry for the guy. Unlike this cowboy, that oilman will never really own it, and he knows it.

I’m not sure if there’s a moral to this diatribe. I’m certainly not qualified to give advice on how to live one’s life. Every day I seem to be in a struggle between the person I want to be and the person I am.

I’ve been blessed in so many areas, and almost everything of importance – whether it be my salvation, my wife, my kids, my family, my mentors, my friends, my house, my horse, and all the things make up my daily life – are far superior to anything I could have earned.

All I know is my greatest hope for my children is that they have that passion, zest and certainty of purpose I found in that West Texas cowboy. My hope also is that all of you would sit back, count your blessings and ask yourselves if your life and your passions are aligned?

As for my midlife crisis, I’m still a relatively young man. I have no intentions of talking about the corn market for at least two weeks. Whenever my computer screen pops up information on gold approaching $1,000/oz., $100/barrel oil, the sinking dollar, or a sub-prime bailout that will evaporate a half-trillion dollars, I’ll turn it off. I’ll walk out to the barn and brush a horse, with George Strait’s new CD turned up loud. Then I’ll saddle up the horses so that when my kids get off the bus we can go for a ride.

Looking back, I most certainly would do some things differently, but I wouldn’t trade places with anyone. If I could do for just one person each week what that West Texas cowboy or that lovely lady from Montana did for me, I’d consider myself blessed. I may not be rich and famous in the classical sense, but I am where it matters.