The most important lessons 4-H taught me have nothing to do with livestock

It’s no secret that 4-H and FFA are huge parts of my life.The most important lessons 4-H taught me have nothing to do with livestock

These two organizations were integral in teaching me about the agriculture industry. They ignited a passion in me that led me to major in agriculture in college and now work in the ag communications field.

It was 4-H that first exposed me to the livestock showing and judging world. 4-H gave me my first experience with public speaking.

Through 4-H I competed in contests and shows, raised my own animals and won many awards. While I am proud of those accomplishments, I now realize that the most valuable lessons I was learning in 4-H had nothing to do with livestock.

To celebrate National 4-H Week, I’m sharing some of the most important things 4-H taught me.

4-H taught me to travel.

4-H has taken me more places than any other activity in my life.

The most important lessons 4-H taught me have nothing to do with livestock

The 2006 Kentucky 4-H Livestock Judging All-Star Team visited Gettysburg while en route to a judging contest.

My junior and senior years of high school I was a member of the Kentucky 4-H Livestock Judging All-Star Team and represented Kentucky 4-H in contests in Wisconsin, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Indiana.

Each of those trips included 2 days of traveling to the contest and stopping at some of the country’s most well-respected farms and agriculture universities to practice along the way.

I learned how to pack light (though my coach would probably beg to differ). I learned how to connect with farmers when we visited their farms and soak up every ounce of knowledge they shared with us. I learned that sweet tea and Dr. Pepper weren’t readily available north of the Ohio River and that saying “yes mam” to a waitress in Milwaukee will get a strange reaction.

I was exposed to people, places and cultures I’d never had any desire to visit and I never would have on my own. My life is forever impacted by those experiences.

4-H taught me how to teach.

For several years, I competed in the 4-H Demonstration Contest. I became a 12 year old expert on decoupaging and practiced my presentation relentlessly. By the time I was competing on the state level, I’m pretty sure Mod Podge could have let me film an infomercial for them!

To be honest, I don’t remember the last time I used Mod Podge in a craft project but every day I use the skills that the 4-H Demonstration Contest taught me. Whether I’m teaching my daughter how to do something new or showing a small business client a new way to promote their business, I’m using teaching skills first honed in my 4-H demonstration.

4-H taught me to keep records.

I’m sure my dad is laughing as he reads this because I was quite possibly the worst 4-H record keeper of all time. I hated keeping track of my expenses in my show pig project and never completed and entered a record book in a competition, despite my dad’s constant encouragement to do so.

Though I lacked the discipline to apply those skills as a child, I still had to sit through the record book “how to” meeting each year and somehow those lessons sank in!

Today as a small business owner, keeping records is of vital importance. When I first launched Celeste Comm I knew that skipping out on a “record book” wasn’t an option. Luckily I’m much more disciplined than I was at age 12 and had a basic knowledge of record keeping to expand upon as my business grew.

4-H taught me to make different kinds of friends.

If you’ve ever been to a 4-H leadership event, you’ve probably noticed that they sing a lot of silly songs. I’ll be the first to admit that I rolled my eyes nearly every time I was forced to dance and sing “grey squirrel, grey squirrel, shake your bushy tail” at a 4-H event.

The most important lessons 4-H taught me have nothing to do with livestock

Dancing to the 4-H classic “Grey Squirrel” at the 2005 Issues Conference.

There’s something about that collective silliness that made us forget about trying to look cool and actually get to know each other as people, not as kids from different counties or schools.

My 4-H friends were people who had dressed in different styles and came from different backgrounds. They were people I normally wouldn’t have associated with but many of whom I’m still friends with today.

There are plenty of organizations that provide this opportunity for high school kids, but few that give 9-14 year olds a chance to learn this valuable lesson. Before I’d even started high school I had learned to get to know people before forming opinions of them, something I think we can all agree our world needs a little more of.

4-H taught me the importance of having fun.

Before every contest, my 4-H livestock judging coach Dr. Richard Coffey told our team,

“Remember, world peace does not depend on the outcome of this livestock judging contest. Go have fun guys.”

When you’re a 16 year old kid spending your fall eating, sleeping and breathing livestock judging it can be hard to remember that it really is just for fun.

I’m so glad that our coach made sure we didn’t lose sight of that because today none of my teammates are making a living judging livestock. They are a veterinarian, a member of the peace corps, a migrant advocate, elementary school teachers, pharmacists and family farmers.

Whether we won or lost a contest had no real effect on where we are today. The fun and friendships from those trips made much more of an impact on us than any placing cards we we ever turned in.

4-H taught me how to lose.

The 4-H motto is "to make the best better."

The 2006 Kentucky State 4-H Livestock Judging Contest. My team was announced as the high senior team but due to a tabulation error we later found out we actually hadn’t won.

My biggest losses as a teen were all in 4-H contests.

I can still remember the market steer class that I completely busted, keeping me out of a spot on the livestock judging team “Gold Team” that would compete at the North American.

I’ll never forget the knot in my stomach when the best pig I’ve ever shown placed second in her class at the Ky State Fair, despite the fact that everyone ringside was certain she was headed to the Sale of Champions. (I’ve written an entire post about that experience and that pig, here).

I literally spent years chasing goals, only to fall short and go home empty handed. I cried, I got angry and I learned how to move on.

You know what? There’s a lot of losing in life.

I meet prospective clients who eventually choose a different photographer. Brides who go with a different stationary designer. We think we’ve found the perfect farm to buy and then everything falls through. I miss out on moments with my daughter while working and opportunities for my business because I’m a mom.

There is no avoiding losing. Through 4-H I learned how to handle it gracefully, dust myself off, move on and appreciate the wins even more.

4-H taught me that your best can always be better.

The 4-H motto is “to make the best better.”

I had a lot of success in 4-H over the years and I’ve got boxes of plaques and trophies to prove it. When I think back on those awards, I remember always feeling that though for a moment I was the best, I had to continue to get better to stay on top.

You have to keep growing as a judge or showman to continue to be successful in competition.

The same goes in my life today as a small business owner, wife and mother. No matter how good you are, you can always keep growing and improving.

I consider myself very blessed to have spent 10 years learning and growing as a 4-Her.

I was lucky to have amazing volunteers, leaders and agents along the way who invested their time and talents in me. I made dear friends who are still a huge part of my life today.

If your child is considering becoming involved in 4-H, please encourage them to do so. You can learn more about how to get involved on the 4-H website.


The most important lessons 4-H taught me have nothing to do with livestock — 5 Comments

  1. Pingback: Advice for my daughter's generation on National Ag Day

  2. Appreciate what and who you have in your life at this moment. Life is not leainr, it flows like a stream taking different directions due to resistance and obstacles. I have learned that we rarely turn out to be who we thought we would. But our character makes us who we are rather than what we became.

  3. Just remeber everyone that you can be in 4-H and not do anything with livestock and still get all the amazeing benefits listed above.

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