How many high school classes, college lectures and conference presentations have you sat through in your lifetime? How many words, how many messages have you listened to? Quite possibly, that number is too big to comprehend.
The vast amount of data we encounter in our lives may have led to the cliché: "In one ear and out the other."
But, sometimes, something someone says plants itself firmly in your brain.
Maybe the statement that sticks is profound or maybe the statement happens to be exactly what you needed to hear at that moment.
When I worked as a facilitator at PIP Camp, which was one of the greatest experiences of my life, we started each camp week with the same message for campers: "Take what you need and leave the rest."
It was our way of letting the campers know that not all of the material presented would apply to their life and their situations. But, on the flip side, we wanted them to latch onto those ideas that did light up their brains like a light bulb and find a way to use those ideas to improve their lives and the lives of those around them.
I have used this concept of sifting through presented material to find the gems ever since my first PIP Camp. I might take pages and pages of notes during a presentation, because that's how I learn best, but only the light bulb ideas are recorded in my brain. Some of those ideas continue to influence my life on a daily basis.
I can't tell you what time of year it was or even how many years ago it was, but I can clearly remember sitting in a pew with Glen's family and listening to Father Vince's sermon. I can't remember everything Father Vince said that morning, but three of his words were seared into to my brain: "God is love." Those words weren't exactly profound, but they were exactly what I needed to hear at that point in my life.
Our friend Nate is really good at delivering messages that stick in your head and stay with you. We spent a weekend with Nate and his wife Bridget right before we started farming - 10 years ago now. We used our time together to collect advice from them about starting out dairy farming. I took pages of notes, but, interestingly, there were three things Nate said that stuck with us:
• "If you work hard enough, you'll make it."
• "Sometimes you just have to let your wife make the decision."
• "As long as you have more good days than bad days, you're doing OK."
A couple years ago, we heard Matt Booth speak at a conference for young dairy farmers. He was an entertaining, motivational speaker and one of his messages was based on this statement: "Tell me something good." His advice was to greet people with this request, rather than simply asking them how they are doing. The idea behind this is that the world needs more good and everyone benefits when stories about good are shared. I still use this phrase, usually by text message, when I want to reach out to a friend I haven't heard from in awhile or when I'm having a particularly bad day and need a dose of goodness in my life.
I also use this concept when Dan and Monika get home from school everyday. Instead of asking, "How was your day?" I say, "Tell me about the best thing that happened today. Now, tell me about the worst thing that happened today." As a result, instead of them just saying "good", I get detailed stories about how their day went.
I have the privilege of participating in the current class of the Young Dairy Leaders Institute (YDLI). Phase I of the program, held last month, included several excellent speakers. During the opening session, Laura Daniels, a dairy farmer who serves on the YDLI advisory board and was one of the speakers, gave each participant an index card and instructions to use the card to record what she called nuggets of information. Those statements and ideas that we find profound or meaningful.
I have 63 notebook pages full of excellent ideas from Phase I of YDLI on everything from communicating with others to reducing stress, but these are the nuggets I recorded on my index card:
"Setbacks can set you up for enormous success."
"Anyone can get involved. It takes special people to stay involved."
These statements by Paul Vitale weren't particularly profound, but they were exactly what I needed to hear at that time.
"Start with the why."
This statement was from a presentation by Michele Ruby and David Pelzer of DMI that included a summary of the Golden Circle concept. What it boils down to is this: When we speak to consumers about our farms, they want to know why we farm, before they want to know how we farm.
"Own it."
This was another one of Laura's ideas. I don't think she meant it how I interpreted it, but I've found the statement replaying in my head for the last month.
Sometimes life doesn't go the way we want it to. Or we don't always get the results we hoped for. Or we find ourselves in a situation where we feel stuck. Don't pass the blame. The first step in changing our situation is to own it - to acknowledge the reality of the situation and take full responsibility for our life and our actions.
Mark Mayfield made me laugh harder than I have laughed in a really long time. But he also gave us some great advice for coping with stress. The best way to diffuse stress is through Relaxation, Exercise, Avocation (a hobby that doesn't become a mission), Communication and Humor.
The last thing I wrote on my index card were four words from a values exercise we did with Laura. What values are most important to me? Kindness. Gratitude. Positive Attitude.
Like Laura asked, I taped my index card to the wall in my office where I can see it every day. I'm sure that, 20 years from now, these light bulb ideas will still be etched in my brain.