I watched her from across the room as she intently focused on the screen, nose wrinkled in concentration. Olivia was getting ready for her first FFA Week, working on questions for a school-wide trivia game.
She’s now an official junior high FFA member, and she’s loving it. From attending her first career fair to helping organize a petting zoo to teach kids about agriculture, it’s fun to see her jumping into new territory.
She sees the world through such a unique view right now. At times, I just want to bottle up her 12-year-old perspective so she never loses her curiosity, confidence and trust. But life happens, reality hits and there will be tough lessons learned over the next few years that will further shape her character and help her develop into a wiser young woman.
I know, I know. I can’t control how these next years unfold. As I sit here today thinking about what’s ahead for her, I can’t help but share a few lessons I learned along the way. Here’s what I want her to know.
1. It’s OK to shake in your boots a bit.
One of the most important lessons I learned was that being nervous is OK. FFA will challenge you to get a little uncomfortable. Use your voice anyway. Don’t be afraid to tell your story. It matters. Everyone gets nervous, so don’t let that stop you from going after your goals.
When I boarded the plane to head off to Scotland with my FFA judging team to compete in the International Livestock Judging Contest, I was a little scared. I had never flown before and that was one long flight over the ocean. But guess what? I discovered that flying was pretty fun and that little bit of shaking didn’t last long. You won’t know unless you try.
Washington FFA (Iowa) Judging Team from l to r: Jennifer (Hotchkiss) Shike, Cam Brinning, A.J. Lewis, Trent Harbison and Advisor Duane Van Winkle.
2. Find your “sweet spot.”
What’s your “sweet spot”? It’s that feeling you get before something great happens. By participating in livestock judging contests, parliamentary procedure competitions, public speaking events and more, I found myself in that sweet spot often. I learned how to tame my nerves and to quiet my inner anxiety as I stepped into the competition room. I realized that I could do anything if I put my mind to it.
I’ll never forget giving my first set of market hog oral reasons at a livestock judging contest. I walked right up to Tim Marek, a well-respected hog breeder in Washington County, Iowa. With all the confidence I could muster, I told him why I placed the class the way I did. I got through the set. I only mentioned horse terms like “gaskin” a few times. It wasn’t amazing, but it was a pretty good start. I walked away knowing I had found my “sweet spot.”
3. Look up to somebody.
I can assure you that FFA is full of amazing people. Find one of those people and get to know them. Ask questions and listen to their answers. One of the best tools you have in life is your network. Use this time to find role models, create connections and expand your circle of influencers. Life is so much better lived when you are walking through it with amazing people you admire and can learn from.
My mentors have helped me achieve so much more in life than I could have on my own. They’ve encouraged me, challenged me and pushed me to do more than I could have imagined. You will need someone to watch — choose wisely.
4. Don’t be afraid to fail.
I believe failure helps us grow. But I won’t sugarcoat it. Failure stings. It can be embarrassing, hurtful and even a little scary. As a mom, this is the hardest one for me. I want to protect Olivia from learning lessons the hard way like I did. However, that would be a disservice to her. No one gets it right all the time. She won’t either, and that’s a good thing.
As I look back on all of the competitions I was in, I did not win them all. There were many hard nights of feeling like I failed or that I disappointed my family by not capturing the first-place prize. I liked to win, and getting second wasn’t good enough. But try as I might, those moments have dimmed in my memory. I don’t remember the “failures,” I remember the things I learned along the way. Fortunately, the sting of failure fades with time.
5. Be the difference.
FFA will put you in a position to influence the lives of others, whether it’s in the ag classroom or when you visit a local elementary school to talk about where food comes from. Make the most of those moments and don’t take them for granted.
My FFA experiences helped me learn how to share my “what I do and why it matters” on the microphone, approach a sponsor about making a donation and write a gracious thank-you letter. Those are all skills that I carried with me into my first job that allowed me to have a greater impact on the lives of others.
Olivia, FFA is going to provide you with building blocks that will help shape the rest of your life. Don’t miss the opportunity ahead of you to build something amazing.
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