COVID-19: 4 Lessons to Teach our Young People

We all felt the pain that followed the devastating events of March 11, 2020. First it was Houston, then Austin, then the Oklahoma Youth Expo and then many other shows around the country were cancelled. In a matter of a few weeks’ time, show staff members were forced to make the impossible command to shut down all livestock shows, leaving thousands of young people and families with broken hearts and livestock that never got a chance to show. This unfortunate series of unexpected events crushed the spirits and shook the lives of so many in our industry – and that pain is still very fresh.

This happenstance is unfortunate, heartbreaking, gut wrenching and disappointing for not only our youth, but the families, the feeders, the mentors, the villages and others in the industry whose shows haven’t been cancelled but have had to watch so much heartache unfold. And it casts a dark shadow on the fate of upcoming summer shows for many.  But even during these uncertain times, we cannot be afraid to move forward and we must realize there is always something to be learned from every experience we encounter, good or bad. There are positives in every situation if we choose to find them. This is a circumstance our industry can still CHOOSE to use for the greater good of our future and here’s why:

1. You can cancel shows, but you can’t cancel experiences

It is a true test to the human spirit when you work so hard for something for so long and an outcome never comes to fruition – or in this case, the opportunity to even try for an outcome. However, there is a common saying, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey” that is applicable to our lives at this given moment. Yes, shows were cancelled – but you can’t diminish the values our youth acquired along the journey. You can’t strip them of their work ethic, sense of responsibility, competitive edge and determination to succeed. You can’t take away the hours in the barn that were spent preparing with families, most likely arguing and fighting, but also working together and growing in love. You can’t take away the friendships kindled with others who share our love for this industry. You can’t take away the mentors and the people who have impacted young lives the most as they prepared their projects. And you can’t take away the passion we ALL have in our hearts for agriculture and the livestock industry. This is something we hold near and dear to our hearts. It is a passion that will only grow brighter amid defeat. Whether our youth step foot in the ring or not, we stay grounded in our belief that this is the best arena to raise kids, and the principles behind why we do what we do won’t change.

2. Disappointments teach us to RISE

Disappointment is one of the most challenging emotions to work through. In this case, many of our young people have invested financially in their projects and devoted so many hours in preparation to compete on a large stage, especially seniors in their last year. However, in reflection of unexpected events such as this one, we must set aside the disappointment for just a moment and understand how truly unique this situation is to this generation. Our kids have already learned to set their standards high, commit to the hard work it requires to compete and how to win or lose with grace and integrity. But now they face the biggest test of all, learning to accept disappointment and endure it with patience with factors that are out of their control. This is a lesson that our world fails to prepare young people for more times than not, and ultimately, we set them up with unrealistic expectations for what is to come. The cancellation of major shows is a barrier unprecedented to our industry and one that very few kids will experience in their lifetime. And as sad as it may be, we can choose to utilize this as a tool to teach our kids that life doesn’t guarantee anything; a livestock show, getting into the school you want, getting that job you desired or getting another day here on earth. Life will be hard, you will be challenged and you won’t always come out on top – but how you handle those valleys and heartbreaking moments will say more about you as a person in the end. The way we react as an industry while “our sport” is being challenged will tell of the character we possess. The way our industry has shone through this lapse of darkness has proven that. I hope we can use these experiences to teach our kids that rejection, failure, unfair circumstances and bitter disappointments can make us all stronger, better people. For it is in times of true upset that true colors come out and we see what people, and our industry is truly made of.

3. Our legacy lives on OUTSIDE of the ring

Being told you are unable to exhibit at the 11th hour is never easy. For seniors – you are missing out on your last chance to set foot in the ring, a place that played a huge role in your development. For others, you might have a once in a lifetime animal that never got a chance for consideration to compete. No matter what the circumstance may be, we have to realize that our success in the bigger picture is NOT defined by what we do in the show ring. In time, winners will be forgotten and accolades will fade, but our character and the way we influence others will shine through until the end of time. So, maybe you don’t get to show anymore – use it as a chance to mentor a new showman who does have the chance to grow and succeed. You say you won’t feel the rush of the showring anymore – try feeling the rush of playing a part in watching someone else’s success. We have to know that a missed opportunity in the ring today is a temporary pain; it is not something that will impact our future success. The way we choose to impact others, serve those around us and give back to our industry will ultimately define our legacy, and that reaches far beyond our time in the ring.

4. Families become more resilient in challenge

Of all the lessons learned, the challenges we are faced with today prove that we CAN and WILL rise up amidst adversity. We are a true livestock FAMILY. We are a unique community who will come together, adapt and overcome roadblocks together. We are descendants of generations of agriculturists and livestock producers who would be proud to know we are coming together to protect the tradition of showing livestock, proving we can stand up for the agriculture industry on the largest platforms as we continue to be tested. The generous acts that have been put into motion because of this outbreak, such as putting on shows in a matter of days, supporting kids who can’t sell their projects, creating scholarships and much more, are setting an example for our youth and will carry on far after this outbreak. We are getting back to the basics, back to the roots of what this is all about – the youth. Our young people are witnessing industry leaders, organizations, ag teachers, parents and volunteers commit their time to selflessly provide opportunities for those youth to rise up. Through this example we cultivate generations of young people who know how to be gritty and tough when faced with obstacles. We are showing our young people how to be generous and willing to step up and get involved when it matters most. We are showing our kids how to stand up for what they believe in and stand up for the future of our industry. The efforts brought about by this outbreak prove that as our livelihoods continue to be challenged, we have the basic tools to make a united stand together and fight back.

This timeout from livestock shows is hard on all of us, but maybe it is a chance to pump the breaks, take a deep breath and remember the real reason behind why we do what we do. While it is unfortunate to witness opportunities to show and sell livestock be taken from our young people – those are not the real reasons we are invested in this industry. We are in this for the lessons raising livestock teaches our youth. We are in this for the relationships and the networking that come with showing and raising livestock. We are in this, because it is a passion that gets us out of bed every morning. At the end of the day, the banner and the paycheck aren’t the true payoff for our kids. It is the lessons, skills and values they take with them that truly pay off. And while we all face the uncertainty of summer shows and question whether or not we should invest in new animals that may never be shown, we must remember that whether or not they make it to the showring, this investment is more than just investing in an animal. This is an investment in our youth and their development. That is what this should be all about. We must face the unknown with hope knowing we are investing in the bigger picture.

So now we have a choice. We can choose to dwell and let rough waves shake us, or we take the challenge head on and focus on how it can make us better. The hearts of our livestock youth and families are still breaking and the future is unknown, but we will recover and bind together to elevate UNITED and STRONG.


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