I shared this list in my column in the magazine this fall and given the whirlwind that has been Illinois agriculture this week, I thought it might be pertinent to share here. In all that I've heard and read over the past few days, I've been reminded: this is the stuff that sets agriculture apart from the rest of the world. May every young person in ag be reminded of that, too.
Life is about choices, not circumstances. This is courtesy of my friend, Colleen Callahan, and I'm telling you, it may be the most true thing I have ever heard. We live in a world that says this thing happened to me and now my life is bad. Yes, bad things happen and we have little control over them. But we can always, always choose how we respond. And your response will make all the difference.
Do what you're called to do. The world will tell you that you can be anything and do anything you set your mind to. It's not true. It's like saying I can will myself into being a ballerina. It's not going to happen. You can, however, be and do anything God has intended for you. And there is real beauty and peace in that place.
Just ask. Do not be afraid to shape your life. Do not confuse this with control, however there are times in your life when it will behoove you to ask for what you want. When I interviewed for this job, I asked to work from the farm; they said yes. When I had my first baby, I asked to work part-time; they said yes. When my youngest went to school, I asked to come back full-time; they said yes. There have been plenty of no's along the way, too, but there's a lesson here: Until you ask, the answer is always no.
Know people. Really know them, beyond a surface relationship. People are wonderful! Don't limit yourself to the people in your immediate circle. One of the best things I did in college was get involved outside my ag circles. Do that. Meet people who think differently than you. This is the stuff.
Do good work. If you work hard and you learn your craft and you do good work, you will be recognized for it. It may take years. It may not show up on a billboard or a trophy. But good work always gets recognized, and you will be known for it. Don't be afraid to toil away quietly. People who shine from within don't need the spotlight.
Go on the road trip. I've never regretted a single road trip, even the one when I should've been studying for a math quiz in college. Or the one with nine college girls and a hotel called the Pink Porpoise and FM hand radios. You'll talk about them for years and the legends will grow, as they should. Be smart, of course. But go. Just go.
Do hard things. If it scares you a little bit and you think you can't do it, it probably means you should. I have learned more from taking on offices I didn't think I could handle, and stretching myself a little bit every day. It's ok to feel uncomfortable or ill-equipped. Doing those things makes you feel more comfortable and more equipped.
Work hard, all the time. We live in this world that says fame is good and it's instant and you deserve it. There's a difference between being famous and being infamous. Learn it. And know that fame is deceptive and fleeting and rarely all it's cracked up to be. Likes and shares and retweets and favorites don't really matter. Instead, just do good work. (see "Do good work," above)
Shift gears as necessary. I went to the University of Illinois to be a doctor. Stop laughing. It's true. And I was determined to not be one of those student statistics who dropped out of pre-med. But by October of my freshman year, I was sitting in the office of one of my favorite ag communications professors, asking to switch to ag com. I hadn't heard of it two months prior but I knew as I lived and breathed that it was right for me: these are my people. Don't be afraid to say you were wrong and make it right.
Protect your hope. Life is difficult. Those of us who have lived a little more life tend to go through things that chip at our hope. My mother died from cancer, my best friend in childbirth, my college roommate from a drunk driver. Life can be hard. But there is good - and even hope - in the face of much darkness, if you'll look for it. Look for joy, look for hope, and guard them carefully.