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When I was in kindergarten, I went to a babysitter on the days I wasn’t in school. My dad and Uncle Bob dropped me off on their way to work at a local factory. One day, sitting between them on the front seat of my dad’s pickup truck, I asked, “Uncle Bob, why does daddy get dirty at work and you don’t?” Their immediate response was a fit of laughter. Then they explained that daddy built the machines and Uncle Bob sold the machines.

At the tender age of 6, I didn’t think too much about vocation. All I knew was that my mom and dad both worked. My dad at a factory, and my mom at a bank. In my small town, the concept of hard work was ingrained from a young age. I saw hard work in the farmers, factory workers, teachers, medical professionals, and shop owners who built the fabric of our community. Until that day when I was 6, a job was just a job. The explanation from my dad and Uncle Bob made me realize that even though people worked at the same places, they each had a different role to play.

This was also the lens from which I started to think about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was influenced by the people in my life and things my teachers said I might be good at. My early list of “what I want to be when I grow up” included: teacher, lawyer, journalist, and pastor. Thirty years later, I haven’t had any of those jobs. I’ve written and preached, but not as a journalist or pastor. I’ve negotiated and taught, but not as a lawyer or teacher. I’ve had jobs that I didn’t know existed for organizations I thought were out of reach. Stanford University? No way, too far from Ohio! Fortune 100 companies? Not this small town girl!

This lack of exposure to and disbelief in my professional options was part of the reason I started Small Town Leadership. I want to share the journey I’ve been on since I left my small town in order for kids who are growing up in rural America to see that the possibilities for their career and life are vast. Whether they stay in their small town or choose to move elsewhere, their competitive advantages are the work ethic, integrity and sense of community they experienced from small town life. I didn’t have access to AP classes or internships when I was in high school, but I did have the opportunity to know people who worked hard, cared for one another, and fostered community. As I combine these small town advantages with exposure to new fields of work and diverse viewpoints, I continue to uncover opportunities along my career path.

Small Town Leadership Lesson: Work ethic, integrity and a sense of community can take you far in any profession. Combining these values with curiosity, technical skills, and a desire to leave things better than you found them will be an asset to the organizations where you are employed. It doesn’t matter if you are the one getting dirty, or if you are the one making the sales. What matters is a commitment to hard work and adding value wherever you work.

To Dad: When I think of a hard day’s work, I think of your work boots, flannel shirt, and Lava soap.


Small Town Leadership Founder; Natalie believes everything she needed to know to succeed in her career she learned by growing up in a town of 600 people. As a Certified Professional Coach and award-winning public speaker, she helps her clients and audiences make wherever they are feel like a small town. She lives in Dublin, Ohio with her husband, Rob, a professor at Ohio State and two little girls.


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