Kansas FFA Blog

It’s No Joke – My Greatest Lessons Were Learned in the Blue Jacket

It may be April Fool’s Day, but I can assure you that this is no joke – I’ve learned some of my greatest lessons while wearing my blue corduroy jacket. While it would be impossible to include all of the lessons I’ve learned from my time as an FFA member in just one blog post, here are 8 of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in the blue jacket:

1. Be Fearlessly Authentic
Be Yourself - Emma Stone

There isn’t a “perfect” style of leadership. As an article from the Harvard Business Review points out, this is good news! If there was one cookie-cutter style of “ideal” leadership, we would spend forever trying to imitate it. And no one would trust us, because people don’t trust “fake” people.

As a result of my years as an FFA member, I have come to appreciate people who are real. People who are fearlessly authentic. At times, I struggled with this myself. I tried to imitate the leadership of others, incorrectly believing that I would be a better leader if I were less like myself and more like the leaders I looked up to. Eventually, I stopped trying to be someone else and became more comfortable with being my authentic self. As W.G. Bennis once said:

“Leadership without perspective and point of view isn’t leadership – and of course it must be your own perspective, your own point of view. You cannot borrow a point of view any more than you can borrow someone else’s eyes. It must be authentic, and if it is, it will be original, because you are original.”

Instead of spending so much time working to be exactly like other leaders, I wish I had worked to become more authentic from the start by asking myself the following questions from that Harvard Business Review article:

  • Which people and experiences in your early life had the greatest impact on you?
  • What are the moments when you say to yourself, this is the real me?
  • What are your most deeply held values? Where did they come from? How do your values inform your actions?
  • What kind of support team do you have? How can your support team make you a more authentic leader? How should you diversify your team to broaden your perspective?
  • Is your life integrated? Are you able to be the same person in all aspects of your life – personal, work, family, and community? If not, what is holding you back?
  • What does being authentic mean in your life?
  • What steps can you take today, tomorrow, and over the next year to develop your authentic leadership?

2. It’s About PEOPLE

In Relationships 101, John C. Maxwell writes:

A Short Course in Human Relations

The least important word: I.

The most important word: We.

The two most important words: Thank you.

The three most important words: All is forgiven.

The four most important words: What is your opinion?

The five most important words: You did a good job.

The six most important words: I want to understand you better.

I love this quote, because it’s a really neat way of explaining what leadership is all about: connecting with other people. Too many times, I’ve forgotten about this part of the equation. But every single time I have interacted with Kansas FFA members over the past year, I have realized that it’s all about PEOPLE. Real people with real lives and real struggles and real dreams. At the end of the day, they’re what it’s all about.

3. Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself

You Can't Pour From an Empty Cup

I’ve always been a perfectionist. I’m a huge fan of making lists (and even lists of lists) and working through those lists without ever taking a break. Last month, I finally broke down under the weight of it all. I had put far too much pressure on myself, and I hadn’t taken any time to relieve this pressure by actually taking care of myself.

I learned that it’s important to take care of yourself first. Take time to feed your soul. Not sure how? Here are just a few ideas:

  • Take a nice, long bubble bath.
  • Get up early to watch the sunrise.
  • Meditate for ten minutes after you wake up each morning. (There are plenty of apps that can help you meditate! Here’s one example.)
  • Cuddle with a kitten (or perhaps a puppy).
  • Start a journal.
  • Listen to music you love.
  • Try yoga.
  • Get a pedicure.

4. Focus on the Circle of Influence


In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen R. Covey explains the difference between the Circle of Concern and the Circle of Influence. According to Covey:

We each have a wide range of concerns – our health, our children, problems at work, the national debt, nuclear war. We could separate those from things in which we have no particular mental or emotional involvement by creating a “Circle of Concern.” As we look at those things within our Circle of Concern, it becomes apparent that there are some things over which we have no real control and others that we can do something about. We could identify those concerns in the latter group by circumscribing them within a smaller Circle of Influence… Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about.

This is a lesson that I learned as an FFA member before I even knew what terms like “Circle of Influence” or “Circle of Concern” meant) Even though I wanted to be able to control everything (from the outcome of contests to the success of fundraisers to the smoothness of banquets), I came to learn that there were things I had no control over. Instead, I had to focus on what I could control. For example, I couldn’t control the outcome of an FFA contest, but I could spend as much time studying for that contest as possible. And I couldn’t ensure that a banquet would be flawless, but I could prepare as much as possible. All I could do was work on the things that I could do something about.

5. There’s No Growth in the Comfort Zone

In The 5 Levels of Leadership, John C. Maxwell writes:

In order to do anything new in life, we must be willing to leave our comfort zone. That involves taking risks, which can be frightening. However, each time we leave our comfort zone and conquer new territory, it not only expands our comfort zone but also enlarges us. If you want to grow as a leader, be prepared to be uncomfortable. But know this: the risks are well worth the rewards.

Almost all of my growth as an FFA member has occurred outside of my comfort zone. From competing in my first public speaking event as a freshman (the creed speaking contest) to speaking with the Governor during National FFA Week, there have definitely been moments where I was nervous to be outside of my comfort zone. But each of those moments helped me move forward and grow as a leader. As the saying goes: there is no growth in the comfort zone, and no comfort in the growth zone.

6. Everything Speaks

Everything - Jennifer Lawrence

Over the last 303 days, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to serve as a Kansas FFA State Officer. During this time, I’ve worked with Ms. Mary Kane, the Kansas FFA Executive Secretary. One of the things that Ms. Kane has said frequently over the past year is that “everything speaks.” Ms. Kane has showed me that every little detail counts, and every little detail can make a difference in leadership. One example of this involves the wording of e-mails and documents. While it’s always important to proofread before hitting send, the words we use matter. Using inclusive language, and striving to make sure that no one is excluded, is important. Everything speaks.

7. Always Carry a Sewing Kit

Cat Sewing

One of my most embarrassing moments of all time occurred when I was running for a State FFA Office. The seam in the back of my black dress skirt ripped all the way up the middle. As you might imagine, this was not a look that I wanted the nominating committee to see. Luckily, I had packed a small sewing kit in my bag that morning. Sitting there with my skirt on backwards, I sewed the seam in the holding room. While this wasn’t necessarily a leadership lesson, it was an important lesson nonetheless: always carry a sewing kit with you. You’ll never know when you might need it.

8. This Is Water

This video speaks for itself, but I’d like to highlight one of the quotes from the end:

You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. That is real freedom.

As an FFA member, I’ve learned that this (right here, right now) truly is water.

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