I’ve been blessed with incredible mentors who have taken me under their wing and guided me as I started and ventured into a career in agriculture and marketing.  They’ve given me spot-on, truthful, candid and inspiring advice that has helped me through the good and bad times. But just like any really awesome advice, there is always the not-so-great advice. And advice is advice…you can take it or leave it.  You don’t know what you don’t know. You can take it for what it’s worth, a grain of salt and push it aside or put it in your back pocket to use on a rainy day.

The advice I received one day had a big impact on me and I will never forget this sentence:

“To make it in this industry, you will need to talk and act like a man.”

I always thought that I belonged in the ag industry.  I grew up on a farm and every company I have worked for has been invested in the industry.  Even though I’ve left the farm a few times to gain experience and pursue opportunities, I have always come back (and with multiples like a hubby, kids and pets). My parents and grandparents taught me to work hard, be kind, trust my instincts and follow my dreams. Gender was never part of that equation, so that advice hit me like a ton of bricks because up until that point I never considered that I was at a disadvantage, right out of the gate because of my gender.  But just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean my opinions and ideas don’t matter.  It doesn’t mean I’m not important, capable or not a member of the team. It doesn’t mean that opportunities aren’t available to me, that I can’t assert myself or cry tears of joy and sadness on the job. It shouldn’t mean that when a salesperson comes to the yard that they immediately dismiss me and ask if they can speak to one of the guys instead. It shouldn’t mean that I’m ignored at farm shows and meetings, not taken seriously and not worth their time.

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I felt many emotions when I heard those words. I was mad because I felt I shouldn’t have to change ME in order to be successful. I was confused because I wasn’t sure if she meant I had to talk louder, deeper and not show any emotions. I was sad because I know this is what she had to do (or felt she had to do) early on in her career in order to make it. And I was frustrated because I felt it didn’t or shouldn’t have to be this way.

I took this advice and decided what I was going to do with it.  I reflected on my values of honesty, hard work, respect and accountability and partnered with companies and individuals that share these same values.  Women are valuable members of the team and industry, whether at the kitchen table or in a board room.  We are farmers, presidents, board members, mothers, sisters and friends.  I reminded myself that our opinions matter and they don’t require a title, degree or a certain gender. I wasn’t going to be intimidated.  I was going to follow my passion and stay true to myself because at the end of the day, my opinion and self worth are important to me.

If that was the advice I received then, then my best advice to you today, whether male or female, young or old, in this industry or not is:

Jennings and I - Maui 2016Don’t let yourself be defined by any terms other than your own. Be your best version.

You are worth it.

You matter.

Love,

Lesley