Making my best better
I learned more from losing than winning in 4-H.
Fifth grade was the first time I’d competed in much outside of a spelling bee.
I won the election as 4-H club president. I won ribbons in the Christmas craft contest and a talent show. I won first place at Project Achievement.
The wooden heart I painted for my grandmother as my project is still hanging on her wall. It isn’t the most perfect piece of art ever. It isn’t the best work I could do today, but it was certainly my best work as a 10year-old Cloverleaf 4-H’er.
In 6th and 7th grades, I again won Project Achievement and county ribbons and trophies.
Twelve years old and already on top of my game.
I was doing my best to win, but as long as I kept winning I never really had to try any harder.
By 8th grade, I was sure my project would win yet again as I gave a demonstration on cartooning techniques I’d learned from a video out of the Sears catalog.
Another girl’s project on carousel horses was pretty interesting, but I wasn’t worried.
I packed away my posters and props and set out to enjoy the weekend at Rock Eagle. That evening as winners were announced, they must have made a mistake— I only earned 3rd place!
I still had a good time, meeting new 4-H friends, learning a few dances and hanging out in the cabin, but something changed— I realized I needed to work a little harder if I really wanted to win.
I tried the human development project, backed with a portfolio packed with a lot of babysitting project work. I didn’t even place that year, and before I left the room had already identified things to improve.
By my sophomore year I joined the newspaper staff at Newton High and chose the communications project. By mere tenths of a point, I came in third. This time, I was upset. I had done my best work. My portfolio was full of leadership, community service, and project work. I had been to every 4-H event, practiced my project, made great posters, and yet I still didn’t win.
To top it off, I was certain the judge had asked me more difficult questions, including how many picas were in a column inch of newsprint.
I went home and determinedly found opportunities to improve my portfolio. I earned a spot writing a biweekly column for The Covington News. I was named news editor of The RamPage.
I volunteered at more service events, served as a leader for more 4-H events, and carefully re-did each and every poster.
At Project Achievement my junior year, I returned with more experience, more confidence, and more determination — and I knew how to measure a column inch.
The judge didn’t ask about picas again, but seemed to smile knowingly as I showed off my new knowledge about newspapers.
I won first place, and headed to State 4-H Congress. Knowing how tough the competition would be, I added a costume and jazzed up my introduction, trying for any edge.
One competitor earned a perfect score on her demonstration— but once they added in our portfolio and interview scores, I still came out on top.
I had won first place again, but this time I had more pride in myself and a job well done than ever before.
Thanks to that judge, I had not only mastered my project area, but I had also learned to truly understand the 4-H motto.
It is hard for a young 4-H’er to understand that “To Make the Best Better” does not always mean winning first place.
My best effort is not always the same as another person’s best effort. I am not talented at the same things as my peers.
My community service probably didn’t change the world or save any endangered animals from extinction. My project work did not change the face of newspapers.
However, 4-H taught me that each and every day, I can learn something new, give my best effort, open my mind to new ideas, and always be on the lookout for ways to make my best better.