It had been one of those days. My husband was at a meeting and our three kids needed to be in three different places at the same time. As I dropped my son Hunter off at football and found a ride for my oldest daughter Olivia to youth group, I thought to myself, do we really need one more thing?
It was the first night of 4-H Cloverbuds for our youngest. She’s only 5. Would she even know what she’s missing?
The truth is she would. Harper has been waiting her whole life to join 4-H, and I’m not exaggerating. Five years ago, I held my newborn girl in the back of the room while my older kids participated in the very same program. I guess you could say she’s been “involved” in 4-H from day one. She’s watched on the sidelines as her siblings took their pigs into the ring, she’s been the taste taster of snickerdoodles and coffee cake, she’s sat through hours upon hours of meetings and she’s served alongside the older 4-Hers at the nursing home.
As she stood up to say the 4-H pledge for the first time that night, my heart leaped. She was about to embark on one of the most exciting journeys of her life. She may have been excited to paint pumpkins and eat snacks that night, but I knew she was stepping into so much more.
From learning how to win with humility to learning how to lose with grace, 4-H will take her as far as her creativity and imagination will allow. But here are five lessons I’m thankful she will learn through 4-H that are often less talked about.
1. It’s not about you.
When you join 4-H, you’ll quickly be introduced to the concept of service. During Olivia’s first year of 4-H, she helped her club put on a fun carnival for the residents of Maple Point Assisted Living Facility. As we drove home that day, she said she didn’t want that to be the last day with her new friends at Maple Point. And it hasn’t. She has since led a blanket-making project, a talent show, a pen pals program and a “Tell Us Your Story” event. She, like many of her friends in 4-H, has been bit by the service bug. She has learned true joy comes from putting others first. This is a hard thing to teach kids, but 4-H gives you a platform to serve.
2. It means long hours and late nights.
4-H is a time commitment. But through 4-H, I learned going the extra mile is worth it. I fell in love with livestock judging when I was in 4-H. I knew if I wanted to be the best I could be, I would have to put in extra effort beyond the evening practices. I studied livestock magazines (we didn’t have judging classes online back then!) and worked on my oral reasons outside of practice – in front of a mirror, on long drives with my dad and to anyone who wanted to listen. I knew in order to be the best, I needed to invest time in making myself better. Regardless of the activity, the realization that good things come to those who work hard is beyond valuable. Luck may get you some places, but hard work keeps you moving on up.
3. You will feel scared sometimes.
I’ll never forget Olivia’s first 4-H competition – showing her horse, Wishes, in halter and showmanship at the county fair. She said, “You know when you put your hand to your chest to feel your heart beating? I didn't even have to do that today - mine was beating so crazy.”
4-H will put your nerves to the test. I remember the night I stood up in front of my 4-H club for the first time. I was terrified. I was the youngest person in the room to speak and I forgot what I was supposed to say. Then, my worst nightmare of the time came true. I cried. It was very embarrassing for a 7-year-old kid. However, that night I talked to the guest speaker, a local veterinarian, who told me about one of her most embarrassing moments and encouraged me to keep trying. I followed her advice and developed confidence after repeatedly getting up to speak in front of the club. Practice may not make perfect, but it gets you close. 4-H encourages you to try new things and realize just how brave you can be. Once you overcome one fear, it’s a lot easier to overcome the next one.
4. You will fail.
During Hunter’s first year of 4-H, he exhibited his Lego EV3 robot at the state fair. He spent hours perfecting his robot’s performance writing “4-H” with a green Sharpie marker. He was chosen to show his project to VIPs during a special Google event later that week. The morning of the event, my husband was helping our daughter who was showing pigs. Hunter was left with a mom who didn’t know a thing about robots. From my perspective, the robot seemed to work well after a practice run so he shut it down to save the battery. Soon after, the VIPs popped by and Hunter started his robot. Cameras flashed, video rolled, and wouldn’t you know it? That darn robot ran off course. My heart broke for my son who was trying to troubleshoot the problem in a crowd that would make most grown-ups freeze in fright! The VIPs graciously reminded him 4-H is about learning and of course, the kink would happen when they were there. Hunter handled it like a champ. After the pig show, we went back and tried the program again. Somehow a connection had wiggled loose. With a little finagling, he got it to work again. This time, three Google employees came over to watch Hunter’s robot and spent nearly an hour visiting with him. Then, Google brought their crew over to get some more B-roll and with lights flashing, the robot ran its course again. 4-H teaches you to pick yourself up when you fall.
5. You can’t have it all.
4-H will make you choose. You can’t sign up for every project and every activity. It’s just not possible to do it all, even if you want to. 4-H taught me it’s not about saying no, it’s about saying yes to the better thing at that point in time. During my last year of 4-H, I was honored to serve as our county fair queen. I spent the week at the fair helping younger 4-Hers, passing out ribbons and representing the county fair to our community. When it came time for the state fair, I had to make some hard choices. The state fair queen pageant took place during the first week of the state fair – the same time as the hog show. Choosing to miss out on some of the queen activities would likely mean I wouldn’t take home any awards, but I made a choice to show my pigs. I had to make the better choice of the two for me – I couldn’t have it all.
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