Author Archives: Kelly J. McCleary

About Kelly J. McCleary

Wife and mother of three, author, financial professional

Writing

I love words, and I especially love quotes, because they articulate my thoughts and give me hope, connecting me to a common humanity. This quote by one of my heroes is a good example, explaining why I write even if no one else were to ever read it.

My first inspiration to write came when I found The Enchanted Loom by astronomer Robert Jastrow in my tiny, small town high school library. I devoured his explanation of how the brain works, a complex subject made simple in layman’s terms by Dr. Jastrow’s gift. I eagerly read the only other of his books in our little library, Red Giants and White Dwarves, on the origins of the solar system, in awe of his ability to effectively communicate complex concepts and planting a tiny seed that, though I didn’t act on it for thirty years, was vital to fertilizing the ground for when the time was right.

I’ve described writing both as my hobby and as my therapy, but I think the latter is more appropriate. Most of my posts center around a few common themes, themes of love and faith and struggle, the primary themes of being human. Having to put my thoughts and feelings to words means having to organize them and, most importantly, find meaning in the big questions of life. I think we all seek meaning; writing is simply my way of doing that.

A friend used to say “Words mean something.” He was right. They wield enormous power—to harm or heal, to incite or inspire. That’s why freedom of the press is the first right embedded in our Constitution and why dictatorships restrict it. But words also can lead to understanding and even acceptance of circumstances that are otherwise unbearable. This is why I’ll be writing until I lose the faculties to do so. I need it; it is life.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  —Ernest Hemingway

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Stop


I published a book this week, but you’d barely know it. I got an email from my co-author saying “IT’S DONE!”. But I was too busy to deal with it. Only the next day, late at night, did I finally get our success posted on social media. I went to work the next day like normal and stayed super busy. No party, no celebration, not even dinner. Just a five minute pause to hammer out a post, then on to the next thing. Shame on me.

I first had the idea for the book more than six years ago. We drew up the outline 63 months ago. My co-author and I slaved over it that long. It contains all of our hard-fought leadership lessons over three decades. I sincerely hope it can help others who struggle with some of the things I’ve struggled mightily with. Yet when it was finally completed, I was “too busy” to stop and celebrate. I haven’t taken time to reflect on this hard-fought achievement. Shame on me.

I think the reason I couldn’t pause for a moment is actually directly related to writing the book in the first place. I’ve always been restless, always ready to move on to the next thing by the time the last thing is nearly done. Yup, I published a book this week, what’s next? Shame on me.

Let me try this again.

I PUBLISHED A BOOK THIS WEEK!!  YAY!  I’m so happy:  happy it’s done, happy to share our learnings with others! Thanks to all of you who have encouraged me and cheered me on through this amazing journey! It feels great! 

Now what’s next?

“The most beautiful things are not associated with money; they are memory and moments. If you don’t celebrate those, they can pass you by.”  —Alek Wek


Junior High

I hated junior high. Based on my unscientific survey, I believe that makes me part of approximately 99% of the American population. It’s such an awkward time…an in-between age, with none of the maturity or true independence that makes older ages more tolerable.

I have just two positive memories of junior high. We’d moved to a small Kansas farm town at the end of 4th grade. By the time I got to junior high two years later, my classmates, who’d been together since kindergarten, had decided this city girl didn’t fit in, and I’d gone from a confident leader in my old school to a withdrawn, fragile girl with only a couple of other social outcast friends. I did find my old self by the end of high school, even becoming class vice president that year, but that was still six long years away and a distant dream.

My two good memories were being in a play in 7th grade, a memory now badly tarnished by my adult perspective. The other was being in track in 8th grade. I have no idea why I joined the team (in a graduating class of 34, there are no tryouts). You see, I’m not athletic. At all. However, back then our league wonderfully had a C class for girls below 100 lbs, a criteria I met. Our coach put me in the maximum number of events each meet, each of which I was equally terrible at. I was a generalist, competing in any event which required no real skill (hurdles and pole vault were out of the question). My “specialties” were the long jump, shot put, and the mile. The last two were particularly ironic. I was literally the 98 lb weakling pitching the shot all of a few feet, and I was an asthmatic who usually had to walk the last third of the mile. I remember a classmate once asking me at the end of a race why I didn’t just run the rest of the way? I was too busy wheezing and gasping to answer her. Yet those were my glory days! You see, in our tiny 2A league, most teams put up few or no C class competitors. I took 1st or 2nd place in all of my events all year. We took first place in league that year, significantly helped by my performances (the league abruptly eliminated C class the next year). It was my first step back on my journey to finding myself.

But the bad memories vastly outnumber the good ones. Struggling to find someone to sit next to at lunch or on the bus. Being asked to exactly one dance at homecoming, by my best friend’s boyfriend—a pity dance. It didn’t go well. I tried to lead, not knowing that I was. And one day in English, taking a couple of minutes of kids laughing to realize they were laughing at me, and a couple of more minutes to figure out why:  someone had put a “kick me” sign on my back. I never learned who.

I’ve come out on the other side. Within a few years, I realized that my own self-absorption of that time, which made me agonize over every “stupid” thing I’d said or done, was matched by equal self-absorption of the others, who forgot anything I’d done within minutes. And I met the love of my life who helped rebuild my confidence by loving me for who I am. I long ago forgave whoever taped that sign on my back. More importantly, I’ve forgiven me.

“And if I asked you to name all the things that you love, how long would it take for you to name yourself?”  —Unknown


Race


There’s a lot of discussion these days about race. Some say things are getting better, some say worse. I honestly don’t know which, because I’m white in America. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel racism very personally, as it affects my family…our daughters aren’t white.

Born in China, my girls are what one GOP politician recently called “yellows”. They’ve been teased and called names and had kids pull on the corners of their eyes. It’s hard as a parent to see your child bullied. It somehow seems worse when the taunts are racist. My girls are innocent; they didn’t choose to be brought to the other side of the world and expected to make their way in a community that sometimes treats them differently. I’ve occasionally wondered if our choice was fair to them, but it no longer matters. It’s done, and they’re here, and I’m beyond grateful that they are. But they have to live with that choice, along with our nation’s long struggle with racism.

I don’t know what the answer is or how we heal our country. I don’t know how to fulfill the dream of judging others based on the content of their character, and not on the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes. I only know that when we don’t, it makes me angry. I get angry that my daughters and millions like them are judged on the most superficial of traits. I get afraid that we allow our politicians to stoke our fears of “the other”. And I mourn for the hurt that it causes us all. But I also believe that most people are good. I believe that our nation was founded on the idea that we can become better, as we have on many fronts over our history. I believe fear of those different from us breaks down when we get to know those others. I haven’t given up. All we need is to build bridges on a personal basis. Please pledge with me to build those bridges. Get to know people like my daughters. We’re all children of God.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”  —Martin Luther King, Jr.


At Home


I feel like I’m back home. After a three year stint in retail, I’m back in Food and Ag. Boy did I miss it.

I grew up in a small farm town of 1,300 in central Kansas, a “city girl” because we lived in town. My great-grandparents on both sides were farmers, and my grandparents lived on a farm (Grandpa worked at the gas company), but I didn’t grow up on a farm. Because most of my classmates were farm kids and the heartbeat of my entire town followed the weather and crop prices, I couldn’t help but soak some of it in. When I unexpectedly found myself in the industry as an adult, it really began to grow on me. I didn’t realize how much a part of me it had become until I left it for awhile. Now I’m back, and I feel like I’ve come home.   

It’s not hard to explain why I love it. First of all, plants are cool, but food plants are especially cool. Wheat or chickens or corn go in one end by the rail car or truckload, and flour or chicken nuggets or corn oil comes out the other in the same large quantities. In between are complex machines and tubes and conveyors and a million things that can go wrong. You’d think by now there’d be one “right way” to design each plant to produce a thing. But there’s always a better way, and lots of smart people dedicate their lives to constantly looking for it. The whole process is clean and food safe and amazing.  

But the best part of our business is absolutely the people. The people who are attracted to what we do grew up with the same values and work ethic I was raised with. They’re independent and practical and no nonsense. After all, it’s kind of hard to be uppity when you’ve got blood on your boots or bits of chicken on your pants. They’re the kind of folks who’ll never let you down, who come to the funeral when you lose family and change your flat tire in the snow and simply stand on your side when life tries to knock you down.  

What we do every day may not be terribly glamorous, but it’s honorable and it’s needed. We feed people–physically of course, but also emotionally. I’m proud of what we do and how we do it. I’m back home.

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”  –Steve Jobs 


Mystery


There’s a stretch of road on my commute where the trees are painted lilac. The whole tree isn’t painted, of course, just a two foot band all the way around the trunk. It’s not every tree, maybe ten or so of them on a one mile stretch of road. Even a light pole is marked. I can’t imagine why someone went out of their way to do that. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, not even a logical guess. It’s an amusing mystery.

There are a lot of mysteries in life. Some are small and random and inexplicable like the lilac-painted trees. Other mysteries are larger, like what drives people we care about to do inexplicable things that have predictably devastating consequences. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. But sometimes karma happens in real time. Humans have always wrestled with the big mystery of whether everything that happens is random or is by design. Forrest Gump decided it was a little bit of both. That actually makes sense to me. For us to have true free will, bad things must be possible. And yet to believe in an all-powerful Creator of the universe means to believe in Someone in complete control. It’s a paradox. Just one of many mysteries we’re left to ponder. Along with the lilac-painted trees. 

“No object is mysterious. The only mystery is your eye.”  –Elizabeth Bowen


Spider Season


I hate spiders. This cutie is a jumping spider. How great is that? It reminds me of the saying that the only good thing about spiders is that they don’t fly. I know, we’d be overrun with bugs without them. It’s good I wasn’t the one to choose that tradeoff.

They say the average person is within two feet of a spider at any point in time, not a comforting thought in that sleepy haze as you’re falling asleep. Only after we moved to Northwest Arkansas did a native tell me about “spider season”. I sure don’t remember any mention of that in the promotional materials. But I’ve survived five already as we head into another, so I guess it’s just as well I didn’t know about this unique season in advance.

Our neighbors across the street just moved away, so there are now no witnesses remaining to the “great spider incident” from our first season here. I’d seen something on the driveway as we got home from church on a gorgeous fall day. I was pretty sure it was a bug, but it struck me as too big to ignore. After all, a spider that big was too close to the house to live…one can’t take that kind of chance. Thankfully upon closer inspection, it was already dead. But it sure was big, so I had to be sure. I stomped it good, with primal relish. Then the real horror began. Thousands of tiny critters scattered in every direction. My brain couldn’t process what was happening as fast as they moved. My first thought was they were ants feasting on an opportune carcass. As it dawned on me what they really were, that primal instinct kicked back in, and I began a clumsy Irish step dance right there in my driveway, still in my church clothes. I was simultaneously petrified and determined that none of those tiny, vile creatures would grow to the beastly size of the mother they had just been cannibalizing that close to my house. I failed in my quest to destroy them all, but I can say with some pride that it was still an unmitigated massacre that day.

I never did explain my bizarre dance to my wide-eyed neighbors.

“‘Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’

‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.'”  –from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White