Sunday, August 9, 2015

Don't You Miss 4-H? Why I Left Being a 4-H Staffer

Today marks the opening day of the Goodhue County Fair, and it will be the first time since I was 5 years old that I haven’t had a major responsibility at a county fair.  I’ve been asked multiple times over the last few weeks if I like my new job and if I miss 4-H.  The answer to both questions is yes. And no.

You see, it’s complicated.  People don’t become 4-H Program Coordinators without having a deep love, passion, and understanding for the program.  It is because of those things they endure long days, little sleep, angry parents, and little appreciation, not just during the week of the fair, but all year long.  Not to mention the verbal abuse, having to enforce policies you had no say in and maybe don’t agree with, and the fact that you literally have 300 bosses in addition to the person who is your actual supervisor.  But for 9 years I endured all of that, because I LOVE 4-H.  I LOVE watching kids grow, and learn, and discover.  I love seeing kids be completely in their element – their happy place – whether that’s on stage, in the show ring, or goofing off with their friends in the barn.  I love listening to kids excitedly tell me about their projects.  I love the look on a kid’s face when I tell them they have earned that state fair trip.  I love that 4-H shapes the lives of so many young people.  They were all MY kids.  I LOVED my 4-H experience as a youth and wanted so badly to help other kids have that too.

But the reality is, life as a 4-H Program Coordinator is something no one truly understands until they have stood in those shoes.  No one realizes how much work it is, both physically, mentally, and emotionally.  It isn’t always purple ribbons and smiling faces.  Sometimes people screw up, and then the PC has to deal with the fall out.  It isn’t the PC’s fault that you didn’t get your paperwork in on time, or your calf died after the registration deadline, or the judge placed that other child’s project over yours.  There is no way to make everyone happy; if there was, believe me, I would do it.  Life also isn’t fair, again, if I could make it that way, I would. 

Once during the fair, I was talking with a 4-H parent and they made the comment, “isn’t it so awesome how the fair just “happens”?”  Um, excuse me?  The fair happens because a lot of people put in a lot of work, especially your 4-H PC.  The fact that there were judges, and ribbons, and clerks, and a place to display your project?  Thank your PC.  The fact there was a space for your animal, a sign for the stall, your name in the program, and volunteers to run the show?  Again, thank your PC.  When you got to the state fair, you had a bed, a stall, meal tickets, or your project was already there on display?  Yep, that was your PC too, as well as a tremendous group of volunteers and other staff.  A volunteer once told me that I was like the engine in the car – a car has lots of working pieces, but the engine is really the heart and soul, and a car won’t work without it.  That’s pretty much the jest of it – thank you for saying that.

Even with all that, I can’t say it enough - I love 4-H.  I love what it does for young people.  I love what it does for families.  I love what it does for agriculture.  So why did I leave?  I was burned out.  My kids missed me.  My husband missed me.  Leaving the county fair in 2014 in an ambulance caused me to start looking at some things in my life.  When my doctors asked me about my stress level, I didn’t even know how to respond.  How could I even explain what my job is?  What I do?  How much responsibility I have, how many people are counting on me?

The opportunity at Mayo really found me, and I took that as a sign that it was time to move on.  The decision to leave my role with 4-H was very difficult, as being a 4-H Program Coordinator had become so much of who I was.  I knew the 4-H program inside and out, it was as familiar to me as the back of my hand.  The world of medicine was foreign to me, and I had fears of being a fish out of water.  But the hours were regular and I had my weekends back.  My work didn’t always follow me home, and my work cellphone wasn’t ringing at 6:00pm as my family was sitting down to supper.  For the first time in a while, I could breath.  The work was challenging, but I felt myself growing professionally, and I enjoyed being part of a team.  I remembered that I love creating, and solving problems, and teaching people.  I looked forward to going to work. 

So yes, I miss 4-H.  But no, I don’t miss being a 4-H Program Coordinator.  I’m going to enjoy this summer of no responsibility because next summer I’ll be back – this time as a 4-H mom, one role in the 4-H world I have yet to play. 

My story is not unique – I could be describing any 4-H Program Coordinator in this post.  They aren’t 4-H Program Coordinators because the pay is great – they do it because they love 4-H, and they love your kids. 

4-H has taught me so much about myself, life, and brought wonderful relationships into my life, and for that I am so thankful.  Best of luck to all Goodhue County 4-Hers, parents and volunteers as you embark on this week ahead.  Know that I am thinking about you, and rooting for you. 

And that I am so proud of you.