The Road I Traveled Series

The Road I Traveled: Meet Zech

“Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost

This series highlights young professionals and their stories, because no matter our path we all have a little to share and a lot to learn. Read and learn from past feature posts HERE.


My sister and I really aren’t that far apart in age (3.5 years), but for whatever reason I had a bit of a moment when I was making my list of the next couple of people I wanted to ask to be a guest on this series and TWO of them were technically her friends first. I know it’s so cliche but time goes by SO FAST.

Anyway… as always I am excited to share the next guest with you! Zech grew up in Eastern Oregon in a little town near my hometown and became good friends with my sister through FFA. He has great work ethic, is very passionate about food and agriculture, has a curious mind and all around is truly one of the nicest guys I know. Zech is very aware of his surroundings and himself, which is a quality I think we don’t put as much value in as we should. If you know him personally, you may or may not be surprised to hear him get real about struggling with self-confidence — something I think more people, including myself, can relate to than we’d expect. I appreciated how insightful he was about sharing his story and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.


Name: Zech Hintz
Age: 24
Hometown: Heppner, Oregon
College: Cornell University
Degree(s): Applied Economics & Management, Marketing Concentration
Current Location: Kansas City, MO
Current Job: Management Trainee, Smithfield Foods

Background Story

Heppner, a small town in Eastern Oregon consisting of just over a thousand people, was where my family lived during my childhood. This tiny corner of the world gave myself, and my classmates, copious amounts of opportunity throughout our k-12 years. Most of us played a sport every season because we needed enough people to make up a team and our graduating classes consisted of 28 people; I never lasted long because I am terrible at anything requiring coordination and athletic ability. We served on the councils of multiple clubs and organizations in school and volunteered at every community event. Most of us tried not to do anything “bad” as small town people know everything about everyone, and the parentals always found out. It was a rural community where gossip was entertainment, but the support and care for others was everything. My life began in Heppner, and that small town is a reason for who I am and what I have accomplished.

My path in life changed forever, and for the better, during the summer between junior high and high school. A lady came up to me at the county fair, after a disappointing performance showing my 4-H hog, and told me that she was signing me up for something called FFA. This person, who would soon become my mentor and role-model, was our high school’s FFA advisor. She gave us FFA members countless opportunities including adventures across the U.S.; pushing us to participate in career development activities, such as public speaking and sales pitch competitions; and teaching us the fundamentals of the agricultural industry. It was in the middle of her class when I found out I was accepted into Cornell University to study agriculture, to which she immediately called the principal who embarrassed me by announcing the news over the loud speaker. She was the person who pushed me to better myself and run for state FFA office, and who celebrated with my family and I every time I made it further in the process, all the way up until the morning I was elected. Our FFA advisor was the person who opened every door possible, and then pushed us through it. Mrs. Dickenson was a pivotal person in my life growing up in that small town, and is the reason I have a burning passion for the agricultural industry.

The credit for my accomplishments goes to a few special individuals. My mother, who gave birth to me, raised me and taught me how to be a caring and positive citizen in society. My father, who always questioning my ideas, solutions and goals which helped sharpen my thought processes. My grandmother, who taught me how to work hard and use common sense to get thing accomplished. My FFA advisor, who showed me how big the world was and how much I could do if I put my mind to it and took the leap. Without these people, I truly believe I would still be in, or near, that small town in Eastern Oregon. There is absolutely nothing wrong with creating a life for yourself in that great community, however they all knew I wanted something else and pushed me to go out into the world and find it.

Today, I am a proud Oregonian who had an incredible opportunity to attend a world-class university, and who now looks to make a positive impact in both the agricultural industry and our society. My life motto is that the only way to represent farmers and productive agriculturalists is to work just as hard as they do. I am happiest when with a friend, drink in hand, talking about the biggest opportunities and challenges our society faces. (Is it just me, or did this just take a turn towards a Tinder profile that is a bit too much?)

I hope you enjoy my small perspective of the world, and learn something from my mistakes and experiences. My personal goal is to make myself a little better at what I do, one day at a time, learning the best I can from each mistake I make on the road I’ve chosen.



How did you choose your college and your major?
Like most Millennial seniors, I began my last year of high school wondering which college I should attend. And, like most Millennials, I decided to answer a question with a Google search. Having an instilled passion for agriculture from my FFA advisor, my fingers naturally punched best agriculture school in the US in the search bar. The first link in the list of results was some national ranking list, to this day I still do not remember which one, that declared Cornell University the best Ag school in the country. Before this search, I had never heard of Cornell, had zero life-long plans to attend, no dream boards to inspire me every day, nothing. Looking back, I am truly amazed at how life works itself out and how everything happens for a reason. I enjoyed my time at Cornell, and am grateful for the opportunity to attend.

My major was the result of my gap year between high school and college when I served as a state FFA officer in Oregon. I applied to Cornell before running for state office and I had been accepted into the agricultural science program, dreaming of owning a large nursery operation one day. I realized during my year of service, however, that I talk way too much to putz around a farm by myself all day long, and enjoy people so much that I decided to go into the consumer end of the agricultural industry. I transferred into the business school at Cornell, which is within in the Ag school, and earned a degree in applied economics and management with a concentration in marketing.

My best friend Mike and I on graduation day.

What were you involved with outside of class? Organizations? Internships?
In high school, there always existed a pressure, from parents, teachers, and community members, to be highly involved. Once I arrived at college, it was natural to jump into many organizations because I thought it was the thing to do. Looking back now, I wish I would have chosen to do less, made more time for myself to think about my future, and dove deeper into hobbies and organizations I cared the most about.

With that said, I was a brother of AGR (Zeta Chapter!) social fraternity, Phi Gamma Nu business fraternity, a Food Marketing Fellow, involved in Ezra’s Army (a Cornell sports fan club), a resident advisor, worked for the New York FFA Association, worked for the business school as a social media intern, sang the national anthem at basketball and volleyball games, and was a teaching assistant for 3 different classes. There are many who do, and have done, way more; I recommend doing less, better.

What were your biggest challenges or obstacles in college? Anything you would change?
The biggest hurdle for me was that I didn’t believe I was good/smart/talented (insert whatever word you feel unconfident about) enough, compared to my peers. I clearly remember sitting in my first day of freshman writing seminar. We were talking about some book, and I realized that I didn’t know a noticeable number of words my classmates were using, casually, to describe passages in the book. Genuinely, I had zero idea what some of these words meant and struggled to keep up with the conversation — talk about feeling like you don’t belong. Over the following weeks of my freshman fall semester, I would find other things to help build the case in my mind that I was not good enough, or as smart as, the people around me. For example, my friends and I were sitting at a table in the cafeteria when the topic of SAT scores came up (ugh, so Ivory Tower of us) and a girl at the table, who was an athlete, said, “The only reason I’m at this school is because I’m an athlete. My SAT score was terrible — like toward the bottom of the range that Cornell recently posted about our freshman class.” At first, I felt bad for her because she felt this way about herself. Then, I looked up the SAT score range myself and realized that my score was THE bottom of the range.

From that moment on, I constantly saw myself as the dumbest person in every room, the person who had to find a way to stand out besides grades. My perspective was that there was no way I was ever going to be smart enough to compete with my GPA when it came time to get a job. This is another reason I was involved in so many organizations – I felt like I had to prove to others that I did, in fact, belong.

If I could change one thing about my time at college, it would be my self-confidence. I continue to struggle with this today, never thinking I am good enough. The irony is that by being so critical of myself, I begin to talk about my accomplishments to make the unnecessary case to others that I am good enough to be where I am. This, sadly, comes across as arrogance and self-praise which is never a good thing. I have worked a lot on this, and wish I could go back to my freshman self and tell him that he is smart enough, talented enough, and capable enough, and to stop comparing his talents to those around him because there is a reason he is who he is.

What one piece of advice would you give a student during their senior year?
Soak it in. I graduated a semester early because I wanted to save money, and because I had already taken a gap year and wanted to get into the workplace sooner so I could catch up to my original graduating class. I somewhat regret not taking it easier to enjoy the people around me and the limitless opportunities that college provides for you.

Want to learn how to start up a business? Take a class. Want to travel somewhere with a group for little to no cost? Apply for a spot. The opportunities to gain real world experience and travel were my favorite part of school, and I slightly regret not taking one more semester to see what else I could have learned, or opportunity I could have taken. Soak it in while you can, college seniors. The real world can be great, but undergrad is a once in a lifetime experience.

Post Grad

Tell us about your career so far?
As a management trainee at Smithfield Foods, you get to work in different geographical locations and have different job functions within the company to grasp the bigger picture. To date, I have completed a six-month rotation in Bentonville, Arkansas working on the sales account to Walmart and Sam’s Club, and am currently in a marketing rotation working on the Smithfield brand, which will end in January. I have found that a rotational program is incredibly valuable, and I highly recommend it if you have the chance. Whenever working on a project, or sitting in a meeting, I now think through problems and opportunities from multiple perspectives. This experience has, and will continue to, make my perspective and ideas more valuable and respected along my career path.

The best part about my career, thus far, is that I have developed confidence in my choice of industries. Working on projects that can help deliver value and meal-time-solutions to consumers, while being able to see your creations/solutions in stores is an exciting thing. Plus, when food has a cultural and emotional value to people across the world, it is easy to be inspired and enthusiastic about what you are working on.

POSSIBLE QUESTION: How did you manage the transition from College to working life?
Graduating in December of 2016, I only have a year’s worth experience thus far. However, I have learned a few key things during the transition from college to work-life: ask as many stupid questions as you want, just don’t ask them twice; raise your hand and ask to be involved when you find an area of work that you find interesting and are passionate about — this helped me get in touch with the right people who eventually created a new position for me; read the book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” and learn to be financially literate, it costs $5 on Amazon; relax on the weekends and let yourself forget about work for 48 hours so you do not burn out.

I certainly do not have “adulting” figured out yet, however these couple of lessons have helped me a bunch and I hope they can help you, too.

My coworkers and I at the end of the 2017 American Royal World Series of Barbecue, the largest BBQ competition in America.

How have your experiences and involvement in college set you up for success in your career and life post grad?
I strongly believe that college serves three fundamental purposes: an opportunity to understand who you are and what you believe, prove to others that you can commit and follow through by earning a degree, and give you the opportunity to realize that human beings, from all corners of the earth, grow up with different perspectives, challenges, opportunities, and definitions of success. The first two purposes are important, no doubt, however I value the third a bit more. Over the course of our careers, the number of people we will interact with, on many different levels, will probably get into the tens, and maybe even hundreds, of thousands. Each person we interact with comes from a different background, believing different ethics, morals, standards for success or failure, life priorities, ways to accomplish tasks, the list goes on and on. The more we can meet and interact with people who have foreign or opposite perspectives than us, and the more we listen to their ideas and keep ours to ourselves until asked, the better we are going to be at working with others and accomplishing things, big and small. College is a fantastic place to do start this.

On the flip side, what are the biggest challenges or differences you’ve experienced post grad that you didn’t expect or didn’t feel prepared for?
I have found that real-world work lacks hard deadlines, and it can be difficult to understanding what level of excellence is needed with each task. I struggle with the level of excellence issue a lot because, in college, everything we did needed to be an “A” to be considered successful. My job demands a large volume of tasks to be completed, and there is simply not enough time to get an “A” on all of them.

Additionally, every day, people from every direction ask you to do something, and it is easy to always say yes because you are the lowest person on the totem pole. This can lead to getting so far over your head that you don’t know where to invest your time, making your job a lot less fun. Take ownership of your personal brand throughout your career and tell people when you have too much on your plate, and that they can ask someone else to complete the task at hand, or will need to postpone or remove something that is currently on your plate in order to do what they are asking. You do not want to end up being the person who says “yes” to everything, and fall short on important tasks, making those around you think that you are incapable of doing a good job.

When you decide to add a project or task to your plate, make sure to be transparent and gain clarification on the level of excellence needed (A,B, or C). Also, if a deadline is not mentioned, set one for both yourself and the person asking the task of you so that you can manage expectations and accomplish projects “on-time”.

What apps, technology and resources do you use regularly to stay organized and do your job?
I used to be 100% paper and pencil, however the world moves too fast for me to keep up, and I am realizing that it is easy to miss tasks or assignments when you must physically write them down. Today, I rely heavily on my Outlook calendar, and supplement it with some sort of list. The Outlook calendar is an easy way for me to see what meetings, events, or due dates I have coming up. A list helps me organize what tasks need to be accomplished to meet those deadlines. As of a couple weeks ago, I began using Asana (which is free!!!) to keep track of my lists online so that I don’t rely on my mediocre organization skills to try and remember to carry around a physical list.

Friends from college visit Kansas City.

At this stage, what are a few of your strengths and weaknesses?
Reading this question made my inner nerd super excited. I truly enjoy exploring who I am and how I operate, and equally how those around me work and operate — I just love trying to understand what makes people tick. I use Gallup Strengths Finder, however there is a system for everyone, to better understand myself and others. My top five strengths are Restorative, I like to fix underperforming/broken systems, products, etc.; Futuristic, every moment I spend thinking about the future is engulfed in what things could be like in 10-15 years, I struggle to think about 1-3 years down the road; Significance, I love to be recognized, and thus when working on a team I am always trying to find ways to praise and recognize others; Includer, my soul hurts when people are left out, especially when I accidentally forget to include someone; Competitive, I like winning, a lot.

The things I work to manage so they don’t get in my way are: Organization, thus the new organization tactic mentioned previously; Clear, Precise, and Effective Communication, my passion gets ahead of my thought process so I forget to help my audience understand enough of the situation to help with the task at hand; Fully Listening, it is easy for me to sink my thoughts into a detail or idea at the beginning of someone’s ask-of-me/speech/directions/feedback/etc. so that when they finish talking, I only capture 50-75% of their ideas/needs.

How do you stay motivated when work gets really busy or difficult?
My church group. I have rough days, like everyone else, and my small bible study group keeps me grounded. They help me focus on the things in life that are great, even in moments of stress or frustration. I appreciate this group more than I could ever describe for both their guidance and support. Find a support group/person in your life, family, close friends, a mentor, whomever you trust, that you can lean on when life gets tough, and that you can celebrate successes with.

Work-life balance? How do you stay afloat and refreshed?
I am far from perfect and am still learning how to do this. But for now, it consists of spending time with my nose in a book and adventuring with friends who come visit on weekends. A routine that fits my personality and lifestyle has also made a positive impact on my work-life balance.

What in your #PostGradLife are you most proud of so far?
Let’s be real for a second — college debt is terrifying. The number of people who live their entire lives in debt (car loans, college debt, mortgage, etc.) makes me want, so badly, to not be in debt. When I moved to Arkansas, I got a second job as a server at the Cracker Barrel down the street to make some spending cash on the side. Many people, including myself at times, thought I was crazy for getting that job. However, I enjoyed my time there because it allowed me to interact with a lot of new people from drastically different backgrounds, and it helped me pay down some serious debt. No one is too good to work anywhere, and I like to think it is that attitude that got me an employee of the month award from that Cracker Barrel a couple of months after starting. That same award is hanging in my cubical today, and is something I am proud of.

What does life look like right now? Hobbies and interests? What outside of work are you passionate about?
I would classify my life as being in a restoration period. Transitioning from home to college was difficult, but transitioning from college to the real world can be a bigger challenge than expected. You start paying bills, making big life decisions (like buying a car or house) and soon realize that “adulting” isn’t all you thought it would be as a teenage kid who just wanted more freedom.

Furthermore, moving from city to city for work makes it hard to make friends. Don’t get me wrong, I am a solid extrovert on the scale of relative sociability. However, when moving to a new place and knowing it may only be for six months, your motivation to branch out and make new friends is abnormally low. It takes three or four months to adjust to a new job and location, so the idea of building a social group is intimidating and seems like a poor investment of time. This loneliness, though, has allowed me to deeper explore who I am, who I want to become, and how I can grow in my personal life, outside of a professional career. This uncomfortable period has been a blessing in disguise, and I have begun doing more things I love. Recently, I picked my professional camera back up again, which has been great, running more, which I used to do a lot of, and have begun building my faith with God more and more each day.

A picture I took earlier this fall.

Remembering who I am and who I want to become has been refreshing, I highly recommend taking more time for yourself.

What path are you looking to take next? Any long-term goals?
Being in a rotational program, my short-term goal is to find a full-time position within my company by the end of 2018. Long term, however, I want to revolutionize how fresh food is sold online. Imagine how many people in the world we can provide quality, affordable food to if we can understand how to get it to them on a personalized level at an effective cost.

As I type this goal, I immediately hear people/voices in the back of my mind saying, “Shipping is too expensive, and people like to pick out their own meat and produce… online grocery is going to take years before it is used by the masses, let alone solve issues such as food insecurity.” For me, these are the sentiments that lights a fire within my soul and make me want to prove them wrong. I once heard an entrepreneur on a podcast (The School of Greatness – seriously, look it up!) say something along the lines of, “If the world thinks you’re nuts, or that what you are trying to accomplish is too hard, then you have possibly found a great opportunity.” It may take us years to figure out how to crack the code on online fresh food, and it may seem impossible to many, but I truly believe that together, as an industry, we can make this happen.

Just for Fun

What is essential to your morning routine to start the day off right?
An early wake-up time. My brain runs at about 5% after the lunch hour 🙂 , so I enjoy getting to work around 6:00am to get projects accomplished that may be hard and require high brain power. This means that I am up at 4:15ish, ready to take on the world!

Do you have a must-have vice like caffeine or item you can’t live without in your workspace?
I purchased this awesome ergonomic mouse on Amazon Prime day this year, and seriously have a hard time getting work done on my computer without it. I know it seems silly, but a good mouse makes my working life so much better.

If you were to have another career, all limitations aside, what would it be?
Singer. I would most definitely be a singer.

Moment of truth, what do you really miss about college?
The people, hands down. Cheesy or not, the people make your college experience, and never again will there be a time in life where all those incredible, talented, brilliant people are in the same place again. College is where you make true, lifelong friends.


Usually I wrap up these posts with a picture of me with the guest if I have one, but I just couldn’t pass up this opportunity to share a fun throwback of my sister and Zech going to the prom together as juniors! What’s funny is to note that phone cameras have some a long way even since 2011… because this was the best picture of the bunch. The rest were blurry. And yes, I did get Zech’s permission to share, but no, Janci did not get that luxury 🙂

Thank you so much for being my guest Zech and sharing your story! Have a Boulevard for me!


2 thoughts on “The Road I Traveled: Meet Zech”

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