If there's one thing I've learned in interviewing hundreds of farmers over the past dozen years or so, it's that they love what they do. L-O-V-E, love. Not that they'd gush about it. But they're passionate about farming, whether it's the good feeling about producing food or the rush of turning soil or the challenge of solving a problem (or six). They really like their jobs. So much so, that they don't even call it a job. Nope; it's what they do.
There's a deep-down lesson there for the rest of us, and that sort of clicked with me last week as I participated in a first-ever conference called "Women Changing the Face of Agriculture." Basically, the Illinois Agri-Women invited several dozen women in various ag careers across Illinois to set up a booth and talk to high school and college girls who were interested in their particular field. It was a good time.
I talked to girls who didn't know what they wanted to do exactly, but they liked writing. And they liked agriculture. Or maybe they particularly liked cattle. But they weren't sure exactly what to do with that. It all sounded very familiar.
When I headed off the University of Illinois in the fall of 1994, I had every intention of becoming a doctor and opening a family practice in a small town. Then I took Chem 101 and decided that eight years of that was crazy talk. So what if I was smart in high school? Everyone at U of I was smart in high school. That was not going to get me through eight years of chemistry and biology…and whole bunch of other stuff I really didn't like all that much either.
So then I had to figure out, if I'm not going to be a doctor, what shall I do with myself? I talked it over with my roommate, told her how I always thought the "Beef. It's What's for Dinner." campaigns were quite interesting. She told me that's called agricultural communications and there's a major for it. And I could get an emphasis in advertising.
How about that?!
A whole new world. So I went to Mumford Hall, sat in Bob Hays' and Jim Evans' offices and told them my story. And learned that ag communications is exactly where I needed to be. Then it was a matter of a small phone call to my parents to tell them I wouldn't be a doctor after all and I was going to be something called an ag communications major. They'd never heard of it either. "Can you get a job in that?" Dad wanted to know. I said, "Sure. People in ag com go on to write ads for John Deere or do farm news on the radio or write stories in Prairie Farmer." True story. I could not make that up.
So here I am today, with a career that I love. Writing stories for Prairie Farmer. Doing it part-time and working from home, so I can still raise my kids and help on the farm. With a re-direct in my early college days and a lot of help along the way, I found a way to combine those things I'm passionate about: agriculture, writing, photography. And somebody actually PAYS me to do it!
So if there was any bit of advice or information that I hope to have passed on to those young women last week, it's this: find your passion and figure out a way to get paid for it. It won't be a job; it'll be that thing you do.
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