Life Instructions from 4-H

I am a 10-year, 4th-generation 4-H'er.  I spent 2 years in mini-4-H, 10 in regular 4-H including being a Junior Leader, 4 years of 4-H State Band, held every office in my club, and exhibited in open show for 2 years since I graduated.  I entered a wide variety of projects, but my main efforts were in jewelry (arts and crafts), scrapbooking, collections (postcards, mostly), gift wrapping, and foods.  For most of my life, summers revolved around preparing 4-H projects and going to the Hamilton County fair!  Having exhibited in open show again this summer - I got a blue ribbon on my jewelry set - I thought about all the years I've spent at those fairgrounds or working on a project.  I realized yet again how much I've learned from 4-H!

1. Interviewing skills

If there was open judging (when the judge talks to you about your project, like showmanship except not for animals), my parents always made us go.  I'm so grateful that they did!  Not only did I get valuable advice from the experienced judges, but I also learned basic interviewing skills.  I learned how to shake hands, introduce myself, tell somebody I've never met before about myself and my project,  The professional interaction I needed to have with the judge was great practice for later job interviews.

2. Good/just judge versus a bad/unjust judge

Someday I want to go back to 4-H, not just the occasional open show project but as a judge.  I've seen good judges and bad judges "in my days" of 4-H.  A good judge is one who honestly evaluates all aspects of a project, uses the actual project requirements as a baseline, and treats the 4-H-er professionally.  I've had my fair share of bad judges, though - not necessarily the ones who gave me a bad ribbon - sometimes I knew I deserved it because I just hadn't put enough work into it.  They give constructive, useful advice.  The unjust judges use highly subjective criteria, don't respect the requirements that all the exhibitors are supposed to follow, and treat all of the exhibiters unprofessionally when they don't bother to understand the rules and reward a 4-H-er who didn't abide by the requirements.  Whatever advice they give is negated by the fact that we've all seen them do a bad job.  I've also had judges that treat me like I don't know what I'm talking about, or tell me that I didn't follow the requirements - but they clearly didn't read the handbook.  (Hello, 12th grade Foods Prep.)

3. Appreciating the reward or understanding the mistakes

One mistake I fell into was overanalyzing the ribbon I got rather than either appreciating the reward for genuinely doing a good job, or critiquing the judge's ruling without recognizing the mistakes or shortcuts I was responsible for.  Eventually I learned to accept the ribbon that I got; to learn from my mistakes and do better next year, or to be honest about what I did do well.

4. Responsibility

What it says.  I was responsible for deciding what projects I wanted to spend resources and time on, getting supplies, meeting the requirements, etc. 

5. Leadership

I filled all of the offices in my 4-H club at one point in time or another.  As a President and Junior Leader, I was the only "big kid" during a couple of years when we lost several people and gained a lot of new families.  It was up to me to basically be big sister, encouraging, leading, and being a good example for the new 4-H'ers.  I learned a lot about the responsibilities of leadership in that context!

6. Planning/design

All the various 4-H projects I made developed my ability to take an idea and implement it - whether that meant changing the idea based on what supplies were available, budgeting for my supplies, breaking down an idea into its components for quick implementation, etc.

7. Perseverance

Sometimes you can work hard on something, but you still aren't satisfied with it.  Sometimes you get cold feet right before you go in for judging.  Sometimes you just don't care about the project and only self-respect forces you through the steps.  Sometimes every little thing goes wrong with the project and you're up until midnight the night before you turn it in.  I faced this so many times throughout 4-H - and every time I realized that just plugging through and finishing, even for the most prideful of reasons, always turned out well.  For all the complaining I did throughout all 10+ years, I was and am so glad that I stuck with it.

And then there's the thing I should have learned from 4-H but didn't...


1. Time management  :)

Okay, I guess I did learn how I should manage my time, but that's not saying I always implemented it so well!  Having the deadlines in 4-H did help me in later life, though, because the fair deadlines were as inflexible as my college deadlines are.  I honestly thing that helped with the transfer from homeschooling to college classroom - I already had some experience with unchanging deadlines.