Some of my fondest memories are loading up in the truck with my dad and younger brothers to head to a jackpot show. Chilly mornings, cramped truck rides, and then a day full of showing pigs always made for memorable trips. One weekend I had gotten frustrated, though, and Dad gave me a little pep talk by telling me about some girls older than me who had been very successful in the showring and industry. I didn’t know them but he referred to them as “the Bentley girls” and I understood that the youngest of these sisters was about five or so years older than me.
Fast forward to my freshman year of high school. Through some great luck, I attended the National FFA Convention in Kansas City that fall as a freshman. Having been an FFA member all of about 60 days, I wasn’t really sure what was going on and didn’t yet know any of the programs or people. However, my advisor made certain we attended one general session in particular because of the speaker. I can still remember where we were sitting. We were to the right of stage, way up in the top rows, hardly able to see the podium.
The time came for the introduction of the speaker. It was the retiring address of one of the national FFA officers. Neat, I thought. The speaker was a girl who had grown up on a farm in Ohio. I was more interested. She had shown pigs with her family. Now I was really listening. And then I heard, “…for her retiring address…Holly Bentley!”
What?!? I immediately elbowed my friend in the next seat. This was one of the girls my dad had told me about years before! And that’s when I realized that if Holly Bentley was a girl from Ohio who had grown up on a pig farm to become a national FFA officer, then there were a lot of things I could achieve, too.
Please keep in mind that, at this point in time, Holly Bentley didn’t even know that I existed. We’d never met. She’d never spoken a word to me. She didn’t know anything about Marlene von Stein from the Cory-Rawson FFA Chapter, but she still had a huge influence on me.
When you are in the ring, in the barn, and at the show, who knows you? It might be the new kid penned just down the aisle who has been watching you all week. It might the youngster whose family has just started showing and is learning the ropes – and whose parents have been pointing you out as an example to follow. It might be the junior from your home county or home state who has seen you before and thinks you’re someone to emulate. Even if you don’t yet know them, they know you.
Later on in my freshman year of high school, I met Holly Bentley at an FFA event. She had the most encouraging words for me and even sent me a note afterwards which I kept in my desk drawer all through high school. She didn’t need to do that, but it certainly maximized the positive difference she made.
It’s important to realize we can have tremendous influence on people we’ve never met. But what if we took it a step further and made it a point to get to know them? How much more could our influence be expanded? What sort of difference could we make with some encouraging words? Back in the barn, make it a point to say, “I can tell you’ve been working hard with your project. Keep it up. It will pay off!”. Imagine the encouragement that could come from you with a comment like, “You’re doing a really great job. Let me know if I can help.” Maybe it’s not even a remark in person. It could be a quick Facebook message or a comment on Instagram. There are so many ways to reach out – perhaps even an old-fashioned note in the mail that someone will keep in their desk drawer for years to come.
Before the summer is over, who will you meet? They already know you. Get to know them. Make a difference.
Marlene Eick is a storyteller and coach. As co-owner of Herdmark Media, she helps businesses in agriculture tell their story. As a leadership and career coach, she helps people discover the stories within themselves.