Believe in Yourself First

I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I did have an interest in horses. Actually, it was probably more of an obsession! I had all the books, figurines, movies, pictures….you name it, I had it. The one thing I didn’t have…. the actual horse. I can recall waking up on several Christmas mornings looking out the window hoping my parents magically found the money to put one in our backyard. That didn’t happen. What did happen was a lot of hard work on my part earning a paycheck in order to purchase that horse myself. I worked 12 plus hour days during the summer at the horse barn and at age 11 I was finally able to purchase my first horse. This was my first major experience learning responsibility, committing to hard work and leading my “non-horse” family in learning about the world of horses. This also led to my introduction of 4-H via the Golden Horseshoes 4-H Club! I was secretary, treasurer and vice-president during my time in the club…which was my first real experience with leadership on a variety of levels.

As I progressed through school and went on to college at Virginia Tech, I just knew I was going to become a veterinarian….large animal more specifically. I was on track up until the end of my sophomore year, then Organic Chemistry tripped me up a little. I withdrew the second semester of O. Chem in order to save my GPA and decided to take it during the summer at a community college…. crisis averted…I passed! However, my dream came to an abrupt stop by the time the first semester of Physics knocked me flat! I passed that semester, but there was no way I would ever make it through the second semester. The even bigger problem, however, was up until this point, I had never made a goal that I didn’t reach (at least not one as important as this). I had no idea what I was going to do because honestly, I did NOT have a plan B! What in the world was I going to do with a B.S. in Animal and Poultry Sciences! I realized after I graduated and moved back home, working a part time job that I needed to get myself together and determine a better path for my future. After much thought and deliberation, I finally decided I was going back to Virginia Tech to get my Master’s in Agricultural and Extension Education.

When I look back at my decision to return and get my Master’s, I realize how much of an influence my academic advisor had on me. He encouraged me to go ahead and take the required classes to get my teaching certificate, even though I didn’t have much interest in teaching. My plan was to work as an Extension Agent with the Cooperative Extension Service. This is where I learned that having a “plan B” might just be a good idea! While my goal was to work for Cooperative Extension as an Agriculture or 4-H Extension Agent, my first job offer was teaching Agriculture Education for the NC School System (thank you Dr. Broyles for making me get that teaching certificate!).

I didn’t have the opportunity to take Ag classes while in High School myself, so I certainly learned a lot in my year of teaching. I had the opportunity to participate in FFA State Convention with our FFA team and support my students through their Supervised Agricultural Experience projects. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I quickly realized that teaching in the classroom was not for me. I decided to search for something else and finally found a position as a 4-H Extension Agent for NC Cooperative Extension services. During my 7 1/2 years, I was given the opportunity to lead and manage my office as County Extension Director. While this was a great opportunity to build upon my leadership skills, I was expected to keep full responsibility of the 4-H program. The amount of work hours per week became overwhelming, the quality of my work declined, and I was burned out. This was probably the point at which my confidence in being leader made a rapid decline. Additionally, I had gotten married during my time in Cooperative Extension and had someone other than myself that probably needed a little of my time!

This led me to my sales career with a local feed company in North Carolina. I absolutely loved this job! It allowed me to learn a great deal about animal nutrition, while having the opportunity to interact with the many great people involved in Agriculture. I was able to boost my confidence in leadership while educating people on better nutrition and feed programs for their animals. If you recall, my dream job was to become a large animal veterinarian and work with animals. This job gave me the opportunity to do so. I was able to continue this work for 6 years, which included a move back to my husband’s family farm. I was thrilled to finally utilize my “employee discount” on products for our own animals! This also allowed me to learn firsthand how well products worked, best ways to use them and additional pointers I could offer my customers. Then COVID hit and I noticed a decline in product quality and service. I was spending more time trying to fix company mistakes than actually educating and helping my customers make the best decisions for their animals. As much as I didn’t want to, I had to make a change.

I began to consider a newly posted position with Grayson County as an Agriculture Economic Development Director. This was a new position within the county because the Agriculture Advisory Committee, created in 2018, justified the need for support of local farms and producers. Being a new position with no previous programs or projects, I’ve had the opportunity to essentially create my department and responsibilities within my department at the direction of the County Administrator. One program I’m most proud of so far was the opportunity to start an annual Agriculture Awards Banquet to support and thank our producers, which was a tremendous success. I’ve also started community breakfast gatherings to discuss and learn about local agriculture issues. Understanding that producers will rely on my leadership to aide in their success, I was encouraged to apply to the VALOR program. I have met many people throughout my career that have helped to get me where I am today. The VALOR program is not only going to give me the opportunity to create additional connections with people and organizations I can collaborate with, but it will also show me how I can best utilize my leadership skills.

Anyone can be a leader; you just have to be willing to put in the work required to do so. I just recently watched a motivational video by Brene` Brown where she stated, “Stop walking through the World looking for evidence that you’re not enough because you will always find it”. She goes on to say our self-worth comes from within and we must believe in ourselves first.

I am beyond excited to work with others that share my passion for agriculture over the next two years as a VALOR Class VI fellow. Let’s make great things happen because “No one ever made anything extraordinary happen alone.” – Learning Leadership, Kouzes & Posner.

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