National FFA Convention is coming later this month (October) where tens of thousands of FFA members will convene in Indianapolis from around the country to compete with one another, learn from one another, and celebrate everything for which the organization stands.
Reflecting on what FFA conventions mean to me, I recall memories of late nights in a Louisville hotel room (where the convention was held in the early 2000s) eating Papa Johns pizza for the first time with fellow members. I also recall competing in national competitions for Ag Marketing, walking across the stage accepting my American Degree, and introducing myself as a National Officer Candidate, representing Indiana.
Initially, I reflect on those “good ole days” as memories of the past, which were relevant to my development as a person over time but separate from instructing how to live my best life today. But, what if FFA is more than a youth organization, in which you engage as a high schooler – transposed from memories and lessons learned to the archives of life’s past experiences? Perhaps the fullness of experiences of FFA could be reflected on not as just a distant memory, but rather, an inspiration for how to live today and beyond?
For me, my FFA experience taught me lessons about life, leadership, and service that are relevant now, and most likely for the rest of my life. FFA was my opportunity to try new competitions, like extemporaneous public speaking, or throwing my hat in the ring to be elected as an officer at the chapter, state, or national level. At that point in my life, FFA encouraged me to try new things; intentionally stepping outside my comfort zone. There was encouragement to take risks – knowing that if you failed, it was okay. Lessons were learned from shortcomings as much as victories. If you lost, your friends would still be friends, life would go on. In fact, FFA encouraged me to diligently seek the next challenge which would push me beyond my current capabilities. By engaging in that risk of the unknown, I learned how sweet winning tasted in contrast with the bitter aftertaste of unmet expectations or outright defeat. The contrasts of wins and losses gave me a full range of experiences and fostered enormous personal growth, which FFA encouraged and celebrated. It is a fulfilling way to live.
As an adult, I could channel that same creed to pursue growth opportunities which expand my range of life experiences. It’s tempting to limit engagement to a narrow range, where victory feels nearly certain or at least highly probable. Perhaps limiting yourself to the easy layups give you comfort in routinely hitting the shot, but perhaps it also takes away the thrill of hitting a three-point shot and robs you of the possibility of becoming a great outside shooter? Maybe uncertainty and discomfort limits us from traveling to a country with a radically different culture and language because it’s unfamiliar, but robs us from a full experience of our world? Maybe difficulty and discomfort prevent us from pursuing growth in our professional lives or from joining a group that looks or thinks differently than us when that group could challenge you to grow into the fullest version of yourself?
Maybe, instead of simply reflecting on the memories of National FFA Convention this month, we should re-embrace the FFA culture of personal growth by stepping into new opportunities, bravely facing the risks, that are outside our comfort zones. If we do, maybe we will experience the fullest spectrum of life that FFA so masterfully revealed to us as high school kids.