If I could go back and live my younger years all over again, I would choose FFA every time. The experiences I had through FFA provided me with real-world opportunities to learn lessons I still carry with me today. Here are four things FFA taught me that you can’t learn from a book.
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.
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.
FFA is full of amazing people. Find 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. Everyone needs 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. No one gets it right all the time. 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.
There’s no question young people have more opportunities than ever to invest their time in a multitude of activities, but I promise FFA won’t be one you regret saying yes to.
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