“Life to Me”
As kids, my sister Rachel and I would sometimes spend our time on the living room carpet playing board games, and one of our favorites was the game of life. For me, I always loved trying to get the most out of every game. The best house, best career, most kids, you name it. But of course, the end goal of the game is just to see who can make the most money, everything else is kind of extra. But by the time we’ve reached high school, we’ve all pretty much heard the message that real life isn’t like the game. We’re all told that life isn’t about making money. What is it then? To me, life is about leaving an impact, and finding enthusiasm.
I remember one time where I was deeply impacted by someone else. It was at the Washington Leadership Conference between my junior and senior year and it wasn’t by a grand speech or a super serious reflection either. I was sitting down for breakfast and found a spot next to my community group leader Mitch Baker. Mitch is somebody I extremely look up to and admire to this day. Not that tall, Mitch is on fire and 100% hype about literally everything. He was a Tennessee state officer, a two-year WLC facilitator, and a 13-14 National FFA Secretary, also, his younger brother Nick was a state officer, fellow WLC facilitator and 15-16 National Secretary. Accomplished people. That morning at breakfast, a fellow student across the table asked Mitch if he’d ever been, like, a state officer. I felt bad for the kid. He had no idea who he was talking to, THE Mitch Baker, a past national officer. Mitch’s response was so casual, though. “Yeah, one year in Tennessee. Where are you from?” And he immediately started getting to know this other student across the table. I was blown away. He never even mentioned the fact that not only had he been a state officer, he’d been a national officer too! This simple mindset of humility wasn’t a grand gesture, and Mitch certainly didn’t remember it, but it had a huge impact on me as a bystander and made developing humility in my life a lot higher priority. I still reference that moment often today.
In life, we may never know which actions of ours really do leave an impact, make a positive change. If we’re not thinking about the legacy we’re leaving, we’re probably missing out on leaving positive impacts like Mitch had on me.
Who are those people that have had an impact on you? Who do you look up to and respect like I do Mitch, and why? During your freshman year, there were probably those seniors that seemed so cool, so accomplished, so awesome. People you admired. People who left an impact on you and your school. What makes that impact? Chances are they were involved. They had activities and hobbies that they cared about, and that they sacrificed their time to contribute. Chances are they devoted time to building the future, not just the present. Giving advice to younger players, training new teams, mentoring younger students, they cared about what their school and programs would look like after they were gone. Finally, chances are that those people who’ve left an impact cared about the little things. Little etiquettes that build others up, made positive contributions, and treated others just.. the right way. Just being a decent, nice human being, they didn’t have an “on” switch for events or when others were watching. They just had solid character and lived with a positive mindset. People who do that, be involved, build the future, and care about the little things, they leave an impact. They make their own life, and that of those around them, better.
People who leave an impact usually have a reason for doing it though. Like Mitch, they are on fire for something, they care, they’ve found their enthusiasm. That’s why I love the Ritual and Creed Speaking contests. Some of my favorite contest prep memories are standing with my ritual team, going through opening and closing ceremonies over and over and over again. It was tiring. But to mix it up, we’d throw in different accents. My favorite was British, but my team’s was far and away southern ritual. They loved hearing me say “the meetin room will come to order, we are now holding a meetin of the Inman FFA Chapter. Madam Vice President, are all officers their stations?” We didn’t throw in these wacky versions because they helped us know the words any better or be in better unison. We did them because they kept our enthusiasm up. Ritual and Creed are special because everyone starts from the exact same words, but what separates those who are memorable from those who just say the words is a genuine belief in the meaning behind those words. It’s the power of expression. It’s enthusiasm.
Enthusiasm is allowing ourselves to be fully invested in the most positive way. It’s finding something that we deeply enjoy, and also believing in it enough to contribute ourselves to it. Our lives are best when we have something to be deeply enthusiastic about.
But it seems like enthusiasm is on the way out. The “cool kid” stereotype is one of apathy, of not caring about anything. People who dare to have a lot of passion for a subject, books, movies, band, or even organizations like Scouts, 4-H, or FFA get the label of “nerd”. But the way author John Green describes them, these enthusiasts, these “nerds”, seem like the very best kind of people. He says “nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff. Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself love it. Hank, when people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is ‘you like stuff.’” I agree with John. As kids we were all born with unbounded enthusiasm for the world and everything we did. But as we grow older, it seems like that natural enthusiasm gets lost. Maybe it’s that peer looking down on us for liking “weird” hobbies, clothes, or music. Maybe it’s the adult telling us we’re better off not trying because we don’t have the experience, the ability, or the understanding. Maybe its ourselves, refusing to care because being invested opens us up for hurt. But what kind of a life is that? Lives are so much more fulfilling, and yes, risky, when we care deeply about the world around us. But our lives are so much better when we choose to find that natural enthusiasm once again. Look around your schools. Are there issues you want fixed? Be an enthusiastic change-maker. Are there skills you want to gain? Be an enthusiastic learner, competitor, or member. Are there experiences you want to remember? Be an enthusiastic joiner, participant, and friend. Just like Ritual and Creed, two people can be doing the exact same things, but what separates the ones who stand-out and have a better time doing it is enthusiasm, so Find yours.
Leave an Impact, Find Enthusiasm.Max Harman, 2018–19 Kansas FFA State President
This game of life may not come with an instructions sheet, but it’s all spelled out for us right there in the word. Leave an Impact, L I. Find Enthusiasm, F E. L I, Leave an Impact, F E. Find Enthusiasm. L . I . F . E. LIFE! Leaving an impact means being involved, building for the future, and caring about even the little things and moments. Finding Enthusiasm means letting ourselves deeply love things again, being a bit of a nerd, and using that enthusiasm to better our organizations and experiences. When we put Leaving an Impact together with Finding Enthusiasm it spells out an amazing life. Leave an Impact, Find Enthusiasm. What is your impact going to be? How are you going to craft a legacy by being involved, building the future, and caring about the little things? What enthusiasm is going to fuel it? What sets you on fire for life and makes you jump up and down in your chair? Find it. Leave an Impact, Find Enthusiasm. Imagine if every member in this room thought about their legacy, build a positive impact. Imagine if all of those impacts were fueled by basic enthusiasm for life, people, and our organization. I can see those premier leaders being grown, who value personal growth and career success. I can see communities being build and invested in, and our common thread of agriculture being strengthened. Leave an Impact, Find Enthusiasm. L I, F E. By living out Life’s acronym we can be happier and by our being here, make the world that much better for it. Now that, sounds like a great Life to Me.