Day Writing by Heather Hamilton-Maude: Lessons in losing
Fair season is rapidly approaching. Most people either love or hate fair season and involvement; I am among those who love it. I am also already seeing the, “that’s not fair,” statement tossed out among adults regarding kids with animals who won’t make weight, won’t be eligible for the sale, can’t compete with local money, etc… I have an opinion on fairness at the fair (no pun intended), and it comes from the perspective of a non-winner.
Perhaps that’s a bit untrue, as I had a great deal of success throughout my 4-H career. However, with 20-some beef projects under my belt in my 11 years, I never exhibited the Grand Champion Market steer, which was the premier award in our county for those showing beef. I also never showed the Grand Champion Breeding Heifer; another prestigious and coveted award in Niobrara County, Wyoming.
It wasn’t for a lack of trying, lack of effort, or a lack of dedication. I was fully committed, very goal oriented, and determined to reach my goal of exhibiting the best beef animal every single year. I did everything “right.” Yet, it never happened. The closest I came was exhibiting the Reserve Grand Champion Market Steer one time in eleven years.
That was extremely hard at the time. However, looking back, I can see with great clarity what it did for me to repeatedly lose to someone each and every year.
It taught me that you can be rewarded for your hard work and the commitment you have for your project, even if your animal isn’t the best in a given judge’s eyes. I was tough to beat at showmanship and herdsmanship in my latter years. I was asked to put on several clinics in multiple counties on animal care and showmanship preparation. Colleges came calling when I graduated high school with scholarship offers to judge livestock for them.
Perhaps more importantly, I learned how to lose; something so many in today’s society cannot fathom. Instead of blaming someone or something or throwing a fit, I was taught to be courteous and congratulatory. Acting with maturity and grace in the face of loss was a non-negotiable aspect of participation in my family.
I learned to face the fact that my best efforts would not always come in first. May not ever come in first. That hard work and a goal does not guarantee success in the way I thought it should, but that it may bring success in ways I had not thought of.
If your child loses at fair this season, consider it an opportunity to teach them to congratulate the winner. If their animal can’t make the sale, the opportunity to learn how to market an animal private treaty just presented itself. Point out those older kids who are setting a good example at caring for and showing their animals. Encourage them help those who beat them when the opportunity arises.
And, in a world so very concerned with fairness and participation awards, consider the value of a program that provides the opportunity for kids to lose to their peers. Don’t fall into the trap of systematically blaming losses on someone else. In my experience that manifests itself into far larger issues when those children reach what should be adulthood. If the judge did legitimately miss your child’s animal, there is a proper time, place, and way to communicate that to your kid without them missing the lesson in learning to lose with tact.
Would I have said it was fair that I lost over and over all those years ago? Certainly not. But, today, I can appreciate what my 4-H involvement did for me as a whole, and it is far more valuable than a ribbon or plague would be sitting in a box in a closet somewhere.
Best of luck to all the youth exhibiting at fair!