Jen Messier on the Lessons of Farming and Entrepreneurship

Noodle Expert Jen Messier imagines learning to be a farmer and describes becoming an entrepreneur.

Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?

That's a tough one! I think I'd most enjoy taking a deep dive into learning about one particular hands-on job — that of a farmer. Farming appeals to me because it uses all parts of your body and brain while creating a tangible product. I enjoy physical labor, and combining that with all the problem-solving that comes along with running a farm would be a wonderful learning experience. I love the idea of throwing myself fully into a project that encompasses all areas of life and uses all of a person's skills at the same time. And while it's surely a tiring profession, contributing a product as useful as food would be incredibly gratifying.

What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?

It's a bit of a cliché, but the old adage of "ask for forgiveness, not permission" has shifted the way I think and act.

I tend to be a stickler for the rules, but as I've gotten older, I have learned just how limiting and fear-inducing that can be. I've found it's sometimes best to leap first without too much planning. If you think for too long, you may never get around to acting.

Where would you send a student who hasn't traveled before?

Having the time, money, and ability to travel is a huge luxury, and while it's wonderful, I'm a big proponent of learning where you are. No matter where that is — large city or small town — there will be history and culture to take in, a natural world to observe, and an arts scene to participate in. I think a lot of the best experiences come from finding the communities that exist where you are, dipping a toe in, meeting new people, and learning from them.

When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?

It's been quite awhile since I was in the academic world, but I vividly remember doing poorly in my first math class in college. Growing up, I was used to succeeding academically, and it was a shock to take a class so difficult that, try as I might, I couldn't do well in. It was a tough pill to swallow. It didn't matter that I wasn't planning on majoring in math or really taking many math classes at all; I hated the experience of not being able to succeed at something I was faced with.

As that class faded into my memory, I came to realize how irrelevant any single grade is in the grand scheme of things. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try while you're in the midst of it, but it's never worth beating yourself up over a number.

Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?

We started the Brainery as a side project around five years ago, and at the start, it was intended to be a fun thing we did on the evenings. It slowly began taking over more and more of our lives, and after a couple years of working part-time at my day job while also running the Brainery, I left to devote all of my time to it. In some ways, because I never intended to become an entrepreneur, almost everything about the job is a surprise. When I left college, I figured I would work in an office job — my imagination didn't stretch much beyond that.

Instead, as a small business owner, each day is wildly different. Some days are filled with meetings and phone calls, while others are more solitary and email-focused. And still others are full of the physical labor of maintaining a storefront, which is both tiring and wonderful. Most days are a combination of all these things, and it's never, ever boring, which is something I couldn't always say about my office job.

The great benefit of working for yourself is flexibility. I love being able to work outside, at a cafe, in the park, at home, or just about anywhere I choose. I can run an errand or go for a walk almost anytime, and that physical freedom is incredibly satisfying.

Of course, the flip side of flexibility is the feeling you could always be working more and working harder. It's difficult to disconnect when your work is so intimately tied in with your everyday life and sense of self, and I've definitely been surprised by just how hard it can be to turn off. It's an interesting challenge, and one I'm working on getting better at each day.

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