Where’s Your Attitude Taking You?

Your attitude determines your altitude.

by Dani Yokhna

Your attitude determines your altitude. (HobbyFarms.com)
Photo courtesy Pig Monkey/Flickr

For the last year, I’ve had the pleasure to work with veterinarian Dr. Lyle McNeal on the “Livestock Q&A” column in each issue of Hobby Farms. Although I’ve never met him in person, I feel like I know him through our regular email correspondence, which always leaves me with an uplifted spirit.

Dr. McNeal is a distinguished animal science professor at Utah State University. He is a very busy man, and I suspect his attention is divided in a hundred ways on any given day. In addition to teaching some of the largest enrollment courses within the College of Agriculture, he serves as the Animal Science Program faculty coordinator, Honors adviser, Internship and Cooperative Extension supervisor, adviser to the USU Sheep Club, and academic adviser to more than 125 animal science majors and minors. 

At age 72, Dr. McNeal has an impressive professional history and yet somehow managed to grow a remarkable family, too, with nine grown children—four boys and four girls—and 15 grandchildren! Yet with all his commitments, he still makes time for us at Hobby Farms by reading our livestock questions and answers for accuracy and editing them to offer the best practical advice for hobby farmers. In fact, this year marks 10 years of his valuable contribution to our publication.

As a livestock and range specialist, having held many leadership roles with the former National Wool Growers Association and the American Sheep Industry Association, Dr. McNeal is obviously very knowledgeable and gifted in his care of animals. But he also has a wonderful gift for connecting with the human spirit. In our brief email encounters, he has a way of erasing the computer screens between us, making our electronic correspondence more than an exchange of business niceties, but a genuine conversation about, well, life! We’ve traded bits and pieces of our personal lives and even a few family photos—that’s how we learned that my new daughter and his newest granddaughter share the same name!

Through each email, I’ve discovered something new—and totally interesting—about Dr. McNeal. He was a caretaker of more than 320 broodmares at Ellsworth Farms, a Thoroughbred breeding farm in Chino, Calif. He was a military pilot for the U.S. Air Force. He makes trips to the Navajo Indian Reservation to assist in veterinary care of their sheep and goats. In fact, his pioneering work in genetic conservation of domestic animals with the Navajo-Churro sheep, and outreach education in the Navajo Nation has brought national and international recognition.

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At the bottom of Dr. McNeal’s email signature is a simple and familiar statement in quotation marks: “Your attitude determines your altitude.” Recently, I asked him, what the quotation means to him. He said his long-time usage of this quote started with his days as a military pilot and as a co-pilot for USU’s Continuing Education Division, when he flew a group of professors to remote areas of the state of Utah to provide university-level animal science classes—something he did a couple of nights a week in addition to his daytime classes—for 13 years! I’m sure the arduous schedule would have taxed an average soul in a short time, but Dr. McNeal’s attitude—and his work ethic—isn’t average.

What really drew him to this particular mantra though, was growing up in what he describes as “not a well-to-do” family, in which he said he had to become self sufficient by age 11 and had to work to pay for everything he needed or wanted. He put himself through school without any loans or credit card debt—a B.S. from Cal Poly, an M.S. from University of Nevada, Reno; and a Ph.D. from USU—a feat unheard of in today’s world.

“My feeling was what you achieve in this life, has to start with one’s attitude; and if you don’t have an attitude of personal initiative, you will not gain any altitude of becoming a better person, individually, and professionally,” he explained to me. “Thus, success, of any one, starts inside one’s spirit, drive and most importantly one’s attitude!”

Knowing all that is on his plate each day, all that he has accomplished—the list of his awards and accolades is long—and all that he gives back to his students, family, the Navajo, animals and Hobby Farms on a regular basis, inspires me to take a look at my own attitude about work and life.  How does my attitude reflect how I live and who I love and what altitude I can reach? Dr. McNeal’s altitude certainly reflects his can-do attitude and his love for nature, animals and humans at large. And good attitudes like his are infectious. They shine through in every little thing a person does … even in emails across the miles.

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