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10 lessons 4-H has taught this teen

Matea Gordon
Matea Gordon shows one of her goats.

National 4-H Week is Oct. 4-10. In recognition of this annual October celebration kicking off the new 4-H year ahead, I would like to share 10 life lessons I’ve learned during my past 10 years of 4-H involvement:

1. Keep your head up.

Having shown meat goats since I was 8, one of the first lessons I learned was to keep my animal’s head up. This helped my goat look stately, and it made me look like a confident showman. Outside the show ring, I’ve learned that keeping my own head up helps me look ahead and keeps me strong and confident, no matter what the day brings.

2. Be brave.

Through 4-H I learned to give speeches, communicate with adults, speak up at meetings and handle the stress of competition. I was often nervous, but I did it anyway. Now, in high school those skills have helped me to become a student brave enough to voice her opinion in class and compete in extra-curricular activities.

3. Take responsibility.

There’s no faster way to learn responsibility than having livestock or pets to feed, water and care for. My siblings and I have learned to plan ahead so we don’t run out of feed and to find someone to do chores if we will be gone on the weekend. On hot days, I know to check the goats’ water every few hours. And, I’ve learned to chain the gate or there will be goats where you don’t want them. I’ve applied the responsibilities learned from barn chores to other parts of my life too, from working on homework daily instead of leaving it to the last minute, planning ahead for deadlines, and even being a responsible driver by clicking my seat belt.

4. Learn to multi-task.

Walking into the ring to show an animal is the ultimate multi-tasking experience. You’ve got to display your animal, watch the judge and pay attention to what’s going on in the ring. It’s a lot of arrows flying at you at once, especially if your animal gets frisky. But learning to navigate those situations, has helped sharpen my skills so that when I have three exams on the same morning at school, I know I can multi-task my way through it.

5. Be flexible.

I’ve learned that rarely does a day come together as planned. Things change — people and animals get sick, a storm might hit, your equipment might fail, the show might be running two hours behind schedule, or COVID-19 might throw everything for a loop. You just have to accept that change happens and find ways to adapt and adjust.

6. Keep yourself healthy.

Through 4-H foods and nutrition projects — as well as feeding livestock, I’ve learned about protein, energy, fats, minerals and vitamins and the importance of good nutrition and abundant water to stay healthy. I’ve also learned, from experience, that exercise and rest help reduce stress and keep you healthy so you can do your best.

7. Find ways to improve.

Even with a decade of showing goats, being in judging contests, and giving speeches, I’m still learning new lessons to become better. I know there’s always room to improve, so I listen to feedback, ask questions and watch others - and will continue to do so throughout life.

8. Practice.

You don’t get to the winner’s circle simply by showing up; just like you won’t ace a test if you don’t put some study time in. 4-H has taught me that practice, practice, and more practice pays-off when the final contest occurs.

9. Everything’s better with friends by your side.

Whether it’s washing a goat, cleaning out stalls or changing a flat tire, it’s always easier with some friends at your side. I’m excited for my future because of the foundation of 4-H friends that I have from across the state and region.

10. Appreciate the opportunities.

4-H has opened a new world to me of traveling, meeting new people, and developing new skills. There’s also been a lot of hard work and preparation along the way. But, with the pandemic canceling several of those opportunities these past nine months, I realize how glad I am to have been involved in 4-H these past ten years gaining experience and making the most of opportunities when they were available. We should all remember to make the most of opportunities when they are presented. It can be a little overwhelming, but the skills and opportunities gained from 4-H are worth it. Looking ahead, whatever the future may be, I’m glad to be taking my 4-H skills with me!

Matea Gordon of Whitewood, SD

This column originally appeared in Farm Forum