The radio is blaring and air conditioning is turned towards full blast to try and keep me awake for the remainder of the drive. I could do the route with my eyes shut, but figure it’s best to keep them open. The trek home from college is only about an hour and a half, but it can seem way longer at times. As I drive, my mind wanders through all that has occurred in my life lately: Successes, failures, stress. Finally rolling up the gravel driveway to my house, this all subsides until I am left with pure joy at the sight of her. My little sister sprints to the window of my car with a huge smile across her face. When I step out of the car, she attacks me with a tremendous hug and squeals of “you’re home! You’re home!” The best part – she does that every. single. time.
My sister greets me in a way that makes me forget all the mistakes I have made or worries I have. She doesn’t care about any of that – all she cares about is me arriving home to spend time with her. This love and enthusiasm makes me let go of all those mistakes also and instead try and accept myself the way she accepts me. At the same time, whether she knew it or not, my sister was creating an atmosphere where I felt welcomed and like I belonged.
Growing up, my summers almost always consisted of some type of camp. 4-H camp at Rock Springs, Church Camp, Girl Scout Camp, Basketball Camp, CYLC Camp, SCCL, and countless others filled my schedules each year. It was not uncommon for me to enter these camps without knowing anyone. These were my favorite because it was like going in with a clean slate. I felt like I could be myself – my overly energetic, crazy, loving self – and not be judged. But this made me think: why wasn’t I being that same person at school? I was worried that I would not be accepted if I showed all my quirkiness to the wrong people. I soon came to discover that most of the criticism I was worried about was that which came from within myself. I will admit it: I am my own worst critic to an insane amount. Why did you miss that shot?! Looking pretty rough at school today, aren’t we? Wow, you just acted like such a spaz. Try to tone it down and be more professional. You seriously don’t have anything together – you just aren’t good at anything.
In these moments, I think of something my softball coach once told me: Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to your best friend. It’s okay to not be perfect because there is beauty in the imperfections. It can be difficult, but know that you are never too much and always enough. Embrace all that you have to offer the world because no one will ever exist to be just like you. Our personalities are unique and deserve to be shared with those around us. We each have gifts, but it is how we use them that makes us who we are. The wise Dr. Seuss once said “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
It may be simple or difficult, but we can always find those parts of ourselves that we are not embracing like we should. Maybe that is looking at yourself in the mirror and evaluating whether or not you truly do accept yourself. We will not be perfect at everything we do, but that’s okay! We don’t have to be the most athletic, the best actor, prettiest, smartest, or most popular person in the school to appreciate what we do offer. We all have parts of ourselves that we do not like, but we also should have parts that we admire. Accept yourself because life becomes so much easier when you do. What two qualities about yourself do you value? This could be your comedy, your intelligence, your creativity, your responsibility, or something different. Whatever thought jumped into your mind, hold onto it and do not let it go. You are wearing that on your sleeve – let it stay there. Bring all that you have to offer the world and embrace it.
As we learn to accept who we really are, there is an opportunity and obligation to go help others do the same.
No one lives this out more for me than a woman by the name of Margaret Wilson. Margaret is a wonderful lady in her mid 70s I grew up knowing through church with my family. She knew my family lived 25 miles outside of town, which was too far to travel home between practices and meetings during the week., so she continually invited me to pass the time at her house instead of waiting in my dad’s classroom. I hate intruding on others, but she was so kind and persistent that I eventually accepted. Every time I walked into her house, Margaret greeted me with a smile, hug, and an enthusiastic “Hey girly girl!” She cooked delicious meals, listened as I talked, shared laughter, encouraged me to try new things, offered great advice, and made me feel loved. Her hugs made it hard to leave, but I would always walk out of her house feeling renewed and inspired. What started as a small, thoughtful gesture on her part ended up making a significant impact on my life.
It doesn’t take a huge gesture to create a welcoming feeling for others – it could just be through repeated small acts. All it took to make my day or week was Margaret going out of her way to make me feel welcomed. Her actions helped me see the parts of myself that I should value. Like Margaret, we can all contribute to making others feel accepted. Who wouldn’t want to make a place where everyone feels they belong and can be themselves?! Not only can you have the joy of making someone else happy, but it can also help everyone continually perform better. People are more likely to be their best when they feel accepted and safe from judgement. Go out of your way to spread more kindness and embrace the diverse personalities of those around you.
As FFA members, we have the opportunity to do this every day. Have you engaged new FFA members in your chapter? Make them feel just as important as other members because they are. Share encouragement or a smile with other members while competing at CDEs. Start a conversation with an FFA member you have not met. At school, work, or home, we can make someone feel special with a compliment or quality time spent together. The person sitting alone at the lunch table, the friend who’s having a rough day, or even the person who appears to have everything together – make sure you take the steps to embracing those around you. How can you make others feel welcome? Many of us have heard the golden rule “treat others the way you want to be treated.” At the end of the day, we should be able to reflect on our actions and be proud of how we treated others, but there is always room for growth.
After making that drive home from college, my fears and insecurities instantly leave when my little sister comes to greet me. When she creates a place where I can accept myself for who I am, I instantly feel welcomed. FFA members, let’s make it our responsibility to welcome others home the way my sister does for me. Take time to embrace and love who you truly are. Accept that it is okay to not be perfect, and focus on the qualities you do bring to life. Find those ways to make everyone feel as though they belong, by going out of your way to let others know it’s okay to be themselves. Live a life that helps others feel wanted and know that you are too. Welcome to a life that celebrates you – welcome home.