Dairy farmers talk a lot about growth: how our crops are growing (or not growing, as is the case this year); how our calves and heifers are growing; and, hopefully, how our balance sheets are growing.
    The one area of growth we neglect talking about, however, is our own personal growth. How are you growing?
    We spend much of our first two decades – school, college, early career – in growth mode. We’re constantly learning and developing our skills. Then, once we’ve settled into farming and raising our families, we tend to settle into maintenance mode or survival mode, depending upon our circumstances.
    But growing you is just as important as growing everything else. Actually, I would argue that it’s more important. As humans, we benefit mentally and emotionally from continuous learning and personal improvement.
    What are you doing right now to grow yourself? If the answer is, “I don’t know,” here are a few ideas.
    One of the most obvious options for fostering personal growth is enrolling in a leadership development program. Despite what their titles imply, participating in a leadership development program does not require you to be in a leadership position, currently or in the future.
    The Young Dairy Leaders Institute, hosted by the Holstein Foundation, is the leadership development program that helped me grow the most. I applied for the yearlong program in 2014. At that time, Dan, Monika, and Daphne were 8, 6, and 2 years old; most days, I wasn’t thinking about personal growth – I was thinking about how I was going to make it through the day.
    But participating in YDLI was a goal I had been holding onto for a couple years. And, like many things, including starting a farm and starting a family, I figured that if I waited for the perfect time to apply for YDLI, that perfect time might never come.
    I was accepted into the program and committed to making the most of each phase. Long story, short, I finished the program and it was an incredible experience. I got to know dozens of amazing dairy professionals from across the country. I learned from outstanding speakers and experts. And, most importantly, I grew immensely.
    Personal development experts say that people can’t grow until they push themselves beyond what’s comfortable. The YDLI projects I completed pushed me outside my comfort zone and helped me see what I am capable of.
    For dairy farmers and other members of the dairy community, ages 22 to 45, interested in significant personal growth, I highly recommend applying for YDLI.
    There are many other agriculture-focused leadership programs available, as well, offered by Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership (MARL), our dairy cooperatives, and commodity organizations.
    If you’re not ready for a longer program, consider one of the countless conferences offered by various organizations. Almost every conference I’ve attended has had at least one speaker with a message focused on personal improvement.
    You can also grow where you are with books, audio books, and podcasts. I know dairy farmers who listen to podcasts while they do chores. I like my podcasts in the morning while I’m eating breakfast. Right now, I’m listening to a podcast by a life coach who teaches stress management through thought management. Wherever it works for you to listen or read, be intentional about the content you consume. Choose books and podcasts that move you toward your goals.
    Take your content intentionality one step further by curating your feeds on news apps and social media. Are you consuming whatever pops up or seeking out high quality content? Are you entertaining yourself or growing yourself? There’s nothing wrong with entertainment, but if you’re going to spend your time scrolling, adding in some meaningful content will at least help your screen time contribute to your growth. How? Choose experts over entertainers. Do a little searching within the topic in which you’re trying to improve and pick a couple experts whose messages resonate with you. One of my current favorites is a parenting coach who shares bite-size tips for becoming a better parent.
    Whether you prefer to learn and grow in leaps and bounds or baby steps, what’s most important is that you make moving forward a lifelong goal. “When you stop learning, you stop growing; when you stop growing, you stop living.” – Kenneth Blanchard
    Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 100 cows near Melrose, Minnesota. They have three children – Dan, 13, Monika, 11, and Daphne, 7. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at sadiefrericks@gmail.com