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2 important life questions

Home Front: What advice would you give to high school students?

This past fall, I had an unusual opportunity. I was invited to address the student body at Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School, my alma mater. I actually graduated from Paxton High School several years before it became PBL.

Preparing to speak to the high school students was an interesting challenge. After all, it’s possible I knew their grandparents when they were teenagers. As I pondered the message I should bring, it occurred to me that perhaps my best bet would be to share something John and I said to our own kids when they were in high school.

Kendra’s referring to two important questions we asked when any of the boys found themselves in a quandary about a decision or wondering about the correct response to a tough situation. We would begin by asking question No. 1: “What is your goal?” The expectation was that our son would answer honestly without fear of being challenged by me or Kendra.

For example, during his freshman year in high school, one of our kids received a less-than-stellar grade on an assignment. Although we had a pretty good idea of his long-range goal for college and beyond, the question was asked: “What’s your goal?” 

When he replied as expected, it was time for question No. 2:  “Will what you’ve chosen to do help you reach that goal?”

After a brief pause and a nanosecond of reflection, our son had to admit that by not doing his best on the assignment (one he was sure was “stupid”), he was only hurting himself. His poor performance did not change the instructor’s method of teaching or the assignment itself.

The two questions — “What’s your goal?” and “Will what you’ve chosen to do help you reach that goal?” — can have a very positive, powerful impact. But only if:

  • the person answering the questions is willing to, in essence, take a swig of sodium pentothal (truth serum) before answering
  • you, as the person asking those questions, can guarantee you’ll have no emotional response to the honest answers
  • you are listening to the answers with the goal of continuing the conversation in an encouraging manner

Answering those two questions can also be helpful as you consider your options in a difficult farming situation. Don’t be afraid to take a swig of truth serum and ask yourself, “What’s my goal?” Answer honestly and then ask, “Will the action, the decision I’m considering, help me reach that goal?”

Next, it might be good to evaluate your goal. Does it line up with your priorities? Does it reflect your values and your hope to succeed in agriculture?

Asking and answering those tough questions might go a long way to making your preparation for the next planting season less stressful and more productive. And that is probably everyone’s goal.

John and Kendra Smiley farm near East Lynn, Ill. Email or visit

TAGS: Farm Life
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