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Amanda Radke reflects on lessons learned at the county fair. (Amanda Radke/Special to Agweek)

A few lessons from the county fair

My Facebook news feed is full of photos from the county fair as proud 4-H moms and dads share the triumphs and heartaches of their children during one of the most exhausting but rewarding weeks of the entire year.

Although my own three children aren't eligible to compete in 4-H, I still remember the feeling of staying up late to put the last minute final touches on indoor projects, practicing my speech just one more time, spending hours in the barn washing, blowing and clipping calves, walking the show pigs around the farm for exercise or making a rushed run to town to the local western store because my show jeans went missing.

There are many life lessons to be gained from this chaotic, crazy week. As an example, here are three lessons that I gained from my 4-H career and childhood spent at the county fair:

• When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

In my first year in 4-H at my first county fair ever, my heifer, Apple Blossom, was spooked by a horse while we exercised her around the arena before the show. Apple Blossom jerked away, and my failed attempt to hang on left me with blisters on my hand from a rope burn.

I had worked so hard on my heifer though, that I wasn't going to let an injury keep me from the ring. My mom rubbed ointment on my hand and used duct tape to keep the bandaids in place while I showed. The purple ribbon I earned with her meant a lot, and the showmanship plaque meant even more.

As an adult, when I try something and fail, I could wallow in pity, or I could be like the 8-year old version of me and dust myself off and finish what I started. I choose the latter.

2. Practice makes perfect.

OK, so perfection is a hard thing to achieve, but I learned in 4-H that winging it doesn't always go in my favor either. I was 13 and ready to compete in the public speaking contest at the fair. I had given my speech so many times it was like second nature to me. I was so confident that I didn't even bother reviewing my speech before I went to compete at the contest.

So it should have come as no shock that when I went to give my speech, I stumbled about halfway through, forgetting the words and quickly wrapping it up under the allotted timeframe. I lost points for presentation, style and time, and even worse, I lost my confidence as I answered the judges' questions.

Later, I would learn to think on my feet and give speeches on a professional level, but that experience taught me to do my homework, prepare for big events and not get overly confident without first putting the work in.

3. On winning, losing and building friendships.

County fairs are for water fights in the wash rack, suppers on the show box, late nights and early mornings, making friends and competing in contests. Sometimes you'll win. Sometimes you'll lose. Learning to do both gracefully teaches us how to interact on a professional level, listen critically to the evaluation of a judge, maintain friendships no matter the outcome of the day and grow from our experiences to improve for next year.

The song, "Humble and Kind" by Tim McGraw comes to mind here, and when my kids are in 4-H, I know that long after the trophies have been forgotten and are collecting dust on the shelf, it's the friendships and connections that will truly last a lifetime. Win or lose, kindness is what matters most.

So as county fair season gets underway, look for the hidden lessons in every moment. These three lessons are just the tip of the iceberg for me, and every experience 4-H has to offer a child is a building block as they develop into strong, empowered adults.

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