Reflecting on Lessons Learned through 4-H

By: Dr. Tracy Kitchel
Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and Leadership Chair

As the youngest of four children, I could not wait to join 4-H like my siblings. Showing animals, completing projects, earning ribbons, and having your own t-shirt with a felt green 4-H clover on the back and your name on the front – who wouldn’t be excited?  I was an 11-year member of the Monroe Better Livestock 4-H Club in Preble County, Ohio and I can say without doubt that 4-H had a tremendous impact on my career success and life.

Dr. Kitchel was an 11 year 4-H member in Preble County.

In so many ways, I felt out of place through my elementary, middle and high school years. But, when I went to 4-H meetings or to the fair, those out-of-place feelings quickly dissipated. Through 4-H, I had the opportunity to demonstrate my life on a farm through showing animals. I also had the opportunity to explore my family and heritage through a genealogy project.  Beyond that, 4-H laid a foundation of hard work and character that are still present in my day-to-day life.

The first lesson 4-H taught me was hard work.  Growing up on a farm certainly contributed to that lesson, but with 4-H there was more.  In particular, I learned that what you put into something has a relationship to what you get out of it.  In most cases, I did better in showmanship the years I worked with my markets hogs more.  The more effort I spent on researching for my genealogy project, the more accolades I had earned for that project. But even further, I learned there were no shortcuts to hard work. As a good friend of mine says, “pay now or pay later.”  There were years where I may have spent many hours on my projects earlier in the summer, but not as much in the last month leading up to the fair. Instead of paying now and working hard through the entire summer, I paid later with an animal that wasn’t as prepared for the show as could it could have been.

The second lesson 4-H taught me was that life isn’t always fair and winning isn’t everything.  Although hard work and positive outcomes are linked, hard work does not always guarantee the outcome you want. I vividly remember a particular year in swine showmanship at the fair when I was about 14 years old. I had worked exceptionally hard that summer and was feeling good about my chances in winning showmanship.  My age group was large, so there were two or three classes before the final class where the age group winner would be selected.  The judge worked with me and my pig particularly hard (and in comparison to everyone else) and I remember how complementary the judge was over the microphone as I left the arena.  I returned for the final drive for my age group.  He had requested more people back than was in my first class.  Somehow, I ended up at the back of the line and literally walked in and out of the ring with my animal.  I barely had a chance to demonstrate my abilities and clearly the judge forgot about me.  It was reinforced to me that life isn’t always fair.  But I also learned that it was fine that I did not achieve the outcome I thought I deserved.  In the grand scheme of life, this one instance did not define me or my future successes.  The work, self-esteem and lessons learned are what you truly carry with you after the fair, not the ribbons, trophies or awards. I knew I had worked hard and I knew I had done well. That was the better award to have won that day.


Tracy Kitchel (middle right) 1993 Preble County Fair Royalty Court. He was the 1993 Preble County Fair King.

The third lesson 4-H taught me was being a part of something bigger is much better than focusing on only you and your goals. Later in my 4-H career, I joined the Junior Fair Board. In many ways, I became more excited about my work with the fair board than my individual 4-H projects. From developing a sense of ownership over the junior fair to working with my fellow board members, and from setting up stalls to running a livestock show, I found reward in accomplishing something that was bigger than me and something that was more than just me.  Being a part of something bigger also meant that winning became less important and putting on a great fair experience for others became more important. When I lifted others up, I myself was lifted, too.

I have carried these and many other lessons learned through 4-H throughout my life and career.  As my life continues to intersect with others outside my background, I continue to learn how fortunate I was to have 4-H in my life and the advantages I had from having participated in it!



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