Wednesday, October 7, 2015

You Are Enough

Earlier this week I was asked to attend a career fair at my alma mater and recruit the best and brightest from Purdue's College of Agriculture. 
No pressure. 
Nearly 1/3 of our awesome employees will retire in the next 10 years. 
No pressure. 
At all. 

The long day spent standing on the wood floors of the Union took me back to place in my life - not too terribly long ago (like yesterday and 100 years ago all at the same time) when internships were something only upperclassmen were charged with and I only attended a career fair because I thought it included ferris wheels and carmel apples. 
I hate it when you show up to an event looking for cotton candy and walk away with 17 pencils, 4 business cards and a mouse pad. 
And growing up. 
That was my freshman year. 
I had so much to learn. 
And I did. 
And I want to share that with ag kids trying to find a professional place in the industry - after their 5:00 mornings on the family farm have passed. 

Be Confident
You have done so much up to this moment - the vulnerable moment when it seems you're throwing yourself out to the entire, mature world. 
Only you know what it's like to make the dreaded walk up to the barn to tell your Dad that you've mown the rock that has stood in the same field for 1,000 years. 
Only you have called your Momma to tell her that everyone is OK, but your truck isn't. 
Only you have cared for animals you've lost, rode in the buddy seat and seen your Dad's heart break and watched your Grandma's arthritic hands pray for rain that never came. 
Only you have juggled FFA, 4-H, BPA, Student Government, cheerleading and studies. 
You've survived. 
You've done so much up to this moment. 
Be confident in all that you are and all that you are yet to be. Stand up straight. Look them in the eye. Be proud that - during this 3-minute flash interview - you're representing your Dad's farm and your Momma's dream. 
That's you. 

Firm Handshakes Are Still Better Than Fist Bumps
I don't know or care what's in style (I still love 80's hair and wear high-wasited jeans to the office every Friday), but I do know with certainty that a weak handshake is the first point of differentiation in agriculture. 
It wasn't long ago that handshakes were as telling as the wax seal on the exterior of a formal proposal letter. 
It wasn't long ago that we didn't need legal counsel; a man's word and handshake was enough. 
It wasn't long ago that prenuptial agreements didn't exist. 
And though we're far past those days, a firm handshake still outweighs a dead fish. 
I don't care if you're asking to mow the neighbor's yard or looking for corporate experience - may your handshake be firm. Let the recipient know your intentions are sincere. 

Get your hair out of your face and tuck in your shirt.
This is just really fundamental guidance that your mother probably wore out during your formative  years, but darn it - it still matters today. 
I can't count on my hands the number of young men who needed their hair cut, the young ladies who wore ill-fitting clothes or the number of square toe boots that needed polish. 
Any other day you may wear your hair so the professor doesn't know when you fall asleep.
Any other day you may wear whatever you'd like (don't be an idiot) to the social event on Saturday night. 
Any other day you may wear your favorite boots to 27 farms/ranches to look at stock. 
But when it comes to the career fair - pull that deal together. 
You have one chance! 
Get the hair cut; show us those pretty, honest eyes. 
Wear the flattering suit; we need not know what color underwear you wear, but we'd like to know your gender. 
Polish your boots. A boot cleaning kit is an awesome gift. It will last years! 
Consider this: You can't get into Canada with boots in that condition - what makes you think you'll get the job?

You Are Not Here to Land Your Dream Job
Understand this: Your first job won't be your dream job. 
The toughest job you'll have to land is your first job. You can always use connections to look for a second opportunity. 
The career fair - the networking in college - is about exploration and learning corporate culture and people and positions. It's not about landing a job in your home county or making more money than your roommate right out of the gate. 
Your dream job comes after a few years - maybe even decades? - of experience. 
Your dream job comes after years of dangerous learning curves and fear that you're fixin' to derail. 
Your dream job comes after you've skipped nights on the town with friends to go back to your empty apartment and eat generic Cheerios, topped with honey from home.
It gets better!
I promise you that. No toes crossed

You Are Enough
You have carried a load, at only 18, 21, 23 years old.
Life has been good in agriculture, but things are changing. 
You have a family at home as passionate as you - with expectations ever greater. 
You have a Dad that made it through the 1980's in agriculture and absolutely expects you to do the same, when someday asked. 
You have a mother that set the bar extremely high. A college degree. An admirable job. She still packed your lunch everyday before school. She still looks 10 years younger than her classmates, despite years in the sun. 
You have been able to watch your Granddad and Dad work side-by-side and make the family farm what it is today. And after schooling, you're silently expected to take it to the next level.

But you. 
Yes, you, with - what seems like - the weight of the world and the future on your shoulders:
You are enough. 
Did you hear me?
Yes, I'm talking to you. 
Take out your ear buds and read that line again:
You. Are. Enough. 
You have so much work to do. You have so very much to learn. And that is OK.
You are smart and loved and make folks proud. 
Sure, you have pressure on your shoulders - it is good for you. 
That pressure on your shoulders is sure to keep you grounded. 
So when you interview for the internship off the farm or the first job, remember that years of day-to-day experience have landed you here. 
Don't be consumed with the idea that you're inadequate in front of 35-year-old professionals who seems to have it together. 
Because those professionals - in their pressed slacks and perfectly starched oxford - wish that someone would have stood in front of them at 21, shook their nervous, clammy hands and simply said: This is just the beginning. You are enough. 

My day at Purdue was a good one; it was a mini reunion, seeing so many folks I went to school with, working to recruit the same kids. 
We're on the other side of the fence now, as 35-year-old professionals - in pressed slacks and perfectly starched oxfords - who seem to have it together. 

We were staring right into the bright and shining faces of the next generation of ag kids. 
Granted, the shining may have been beads of sweat.
But Dan Seals said it best: Not all that glitters is gold. 
Sometimes, it's just nerves. 

You are enough. 
Young or old. 
In agriculture or not. 
Now go change the world. 

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