While I was home in Eastern Oregon for the holidays I got out with the cows on Christmas morning for a little photo practice. Every morning they gather up close to the farm yard and wait till they see the hay loaded on to the 4-wheeler and then take off running to the spot two fields over where they are fed. The calves are at a fun, curious age, and I already had my camera ready to go for some family stuff so I headed in. It was pretty gray out, and I typically like my photos more on the warm side, but it reminded me that if photography is really something I enjoy as a hobby, then I need to get out and practice more because there I definitely have room for improvement.
I struggled to choose which ones to share, not because the quality is super high, but because the subjects are just so cute. Especially this first little one, #2002, which followed me around the whole time getting a bit more brave until I took this photo without having to zoom in too much.
If anyone is here besides my Mom, I hope you enjoy 🙂
Last week I took a break from my normal office views and headed to North Dakota for the annual hard red spring wheat and durum quality tour. Every year around this time, folks from around the wheat industry (millers, traders, farmers, researchers, government officials and media) spend three days driving different routes around the state surveying this year’s crop and estimating the yield. There is a similar tour for winter wheat in Kansas that I went to back in 2015, but this was the first time I was able to join the tour in North Dakota. You can read the summary I wrote about the tour here.
Considering I’ve spent quite a few of my weekends this summer inside at work preparing to launch our new website, getting to spend a week in my jeans and boots, walking through wheat fields and enjoying being away from the city was EXACTLY what I needed.
By far, the highlight of the trip was visiting two of my favorite farmers, David and Aileen Clough, who hosted lunch on their farm for some of the cars on the tour. David spent twelve years serving on the North Dakota Wheat Commission and was one its representatives on the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Board of Directors (my organization). Aileen traveled to most of USW’s events with David, so I’ve gotten to know them during my time here. David recently retired off of the board earlier this summer so I was so excited for the chance to see them again and visit their farm. David and Aileen are two of the kindest people I’ve ever met and just another reason why I personally think working for farmers is one of the most rewarding jobs there is.
I had only been to North Dakota one other time, and when I did, I spent most of my time in conference rooms in Fargo. One of the perks of going on a work trip like this is that you really get a chance to see a lot of the state. One evening during our stay in Bismarck, we had some time to explore Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park and enjoy some beautiful views.
And of course, I couldn’t visit North Dakota at this time of year with my camera and NOT request that we stop so I could take some pictures of the sunflowers. They just make me so happy!
This website was brought you by Peet’s Coffee, countless Post-it Notes and a dozen or so Google Drive spreadsheets.
But in all seriousness, after 9 months I am so excited to finally share this finished project!
This project was by far my biggest responsibility so far as a communications professional. I knew what level of quality I wanted the finished project to be, but I knew there was going to be A LOT of learning and figuring it out as I went. It put my super detail-oriented skills to good use, but is also challenged me in so many ways. It pushed me to better think through how I lead and communicate with others, and how I think strategically. I’m sure my Mom and my best friends now know way more about website development than they ever truly cared to know, and I love them for patiently allowing me to ramble on about the ups and down of the project.
There’s an episode of Gilmore Girls (my all-time favorite show ) in season 5 where Lorelai is so consumed with renovating her inn that she wakes up multiple times in the middle of the night to leave herself voicemails with reminders for her to-do lists. I wasn’t quite at that level, but I did live and breath this project for so long that I did start to dream about it at night and at this point the details I could recite from memory to you is a tad bit embarrassing.
In all honesty, it was also therapeutic. There’s nothing like being able to throw yourself into a big project to help you work through some heartache. And for that, I am thankful for the timing of this project.
My biggest hope is that the farmers I work for are as proud to call this website their own — as I am to work for them. U.S. wheat farmers are going through a lot of uncertainty right now, but they still show up to work everyday because they believe in the quality and value of their product. I should add that while I was the leader for this project, I certainly didn’t do it all on my own. I love what I do for a living and a large part of that is the people I work with. They hustle hard everyday and I am so thankful for the work they put in to help me successfully see this project through till the end.
If you have made it through to the end of this post, this is really all my way of telling you that if you follow me on Instagram stories, you won’t have to see pictures of my desk on the weekends any more.
If you are interested, I’d love for you to check out the website at www.uswheat.org.
But if you find an error, keep it to yourself for a few days. Let me in live peace (and denial) for just a little while longer. 🙂
I laugh now, because I quickly realized that I didn’t quite understand what my job all entailed and what the organization did. The phrase “fake it till you make it” became my real motto. Those first couple of months were harder than any class I ever took but that feeling I had when I first learned about the job continued to stay with me, and remains with me today. I know that my place in the work force and in the agriculture industry is working on behalf of farmers, and using my words and skills to help them do their job.
In three years, this job has taken me to three countries (and Guam) and on many, many domestic trips. I’ve learned about how complex wheat is and met people from around the world who depend on and prefer the high quality wheat that U.S. wheat farmers grow. I’ve learned about crop production, wheat breeding, international markets, transportation, the immense variety of end products that are made from wheat, export market promotion and how it all affects each other. And I’ve learned about the many areas of trade policy that affect wheat exports, including negotiations and barriers. All that said, there is still so much more to learn, but that part excites me. Most important to me though, is the farmers I’ve met over the past three years. I know these people, I’ve visited their farms and met their families. I respect their hard work and seen how they strive to improve their business and their product. They are humble — both when they make mistakes and when they should be proud of their progress. They care about their communities and the world around them. Personally, its important to me to feel like I have a sense of purpose when I am going to and work each day. And these farmers give me that purpose.
As a young professional, there are certainly ups and downs to figuring out what works for you and what doesn’t, what you want your career to look like and how to get there. Trust me, I am far from having it all together, but I have been lucky to have so many mentors and others who support my career. If we were having coffee together, there is a lot more that I could share about what I’ve learned so far, but since we’re not, here are 10 general pieces of advice I’d like to share:
Ask questions. Sure, some questions are indeed, dumb. But what’s worse is not asking the question at all. Not only does it prevent you from learning, but it prevents others from improving as bosses and leaders, and sets a bad precedent for effective communication.
Don’t work through lunch. Sometimes it is inevitable, but it is important to step away, give your brain a break and your legs a stretch. Make it a habit. (This one is really tough for me!)
Practice grace. You will make mistakes. Big embarrassing mistakes. And others will disappoint you with their mistakes. I think the only way to get past mistakes is to take a deep breath, own it and determine how to not make the mistake again. In others, identify why you respect them and consider what factors may have led to the mistake. Then give yourself and them, a dose of grace. Life will go on, I promise.
Invest in good shoes. Nobody has time for sore feet, but at 5’2″ I can attest that there is such a thing as comfy heels. But I also know that I shouldn’t wear them if I need to hike it a longer distance. Figure out what works for your style and invest in it. You’ll save your wallet and your feet in the long run. Trust me, I’ve learned the hard way.
Learn how to write professional emails. Even if you don’t like to write or consider yourself a poor writer, there is no excuse for poorly written emails, no matter what your job is. Yes, people do notice. Luckily, there are many resources out there and asking your boss or superiors for help improving those skills will show them initiative, which is always a good thing.
Don’t shy away from what makes you uncomfortable. No, I am not suggesting anything that is unsafe or negative. What I mean is that pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone helps us grow our skills and our minds. So listen to the argument that you don’t agree with, don’t pass on a task because you don’t know how to do it and don’t back down if you feel strongly about an idea or decision. Staying where you are comfortable does no favors to your career or those you represent or work for.
Find people who will go to bat for you.When I hear from others complaining about their superiors or something in their work place, I am reminded of how thankful I am to know that I have people in my corner. Good bosses and colleagues alike, understand that in order to see productivity and results in the work place, they need to respect your values and support your goals and needs. They will go to bat for you if necessary.
Become a life-long learner. Read, discuss, participate. Seek out opportunities to learn something new or improve your skills. Everyone is replaceable and most industries are constantly changing at a quick pace, so if your job doesn’t spark curiosity and a desire to become better, you might want to fix that or move on, because otherwise you’ll get left behind.
Not every season is exciting, and that’s OK. I know there are a lot of studies and facts out there about how young professionals today are not staying in one place nearly as long as the generations who came before them. Sometimes the latter will call it lazy or having no sense of loyalty, while many of the young professionals themselves either grow bored or eager to see what else is out there. I think from time to time, both views are wrong and right. However, I think the root is that my generation is used to having more options, has been pushed to “exceed expectations” and like I mentioned for myself above, need to feel like their work has a sense of purpose. So, when a job rolls into a season that is lacking in someway, it is easy to think that it is time to jump ship. I’m not saying that you should completely ignore that feeling, but just sit on it a while and maybe spend that time determining if this season is just cyclical or if there is something you can do to improve it. Yes, I love my job overall, but its not realistic for someone to say that they love it every single day.
Happy Monday friends! My next guest is a great example of how this series continues to inspire me and allows me to get to know people in my network a bit better. I vaguely knew who Lyndsey was through ag communications stuff in college, and then I actually met her when I moved to the Washington D.C. area. She was so kind to me as a new kid in the city and I wish I had gotten to know her better before she moved away.
But Lyndsey’s story is such a great example of someone having an idea of how to build a career and life around a passion… and then actually making it happen! Lyndsey is hard working, ambitious and after starting her own business just over a year ago, she has a lot to share about taking risks and growing through experiences. Personally, I think her business is a wonderful idea and something we could use a bit more of. But I’ll let her share all about it 🙂
Name: Lyndsey Murphy Age: 28 Hometown: Mechanicsburg, Ohio College: The Ohio State University Degree(s): Bachelor’s: Agricultural Communications //Masters: Agricultural Communication Current Location: Mechanicsburg, Ohio Current Job: Owner and operator of The Market at the Hive
Background Story: I was raised as the fifth generation on our family corn, soybean and beef farm in a small town in western Ohio. I was fortunate to find my home early on in FFA and participated heavily there throughout high school, culminating with a year as a state FFA Officer. I then traveled onto The Ohio State University where I discovered my love for communications and traveling. I graduated with my bachelors in 2011 and started my masters degree later that fall at Ohio State. My first big girl job was as Communications Director for the Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association, where I spent two and half years managing every bit of communications for the organization and cutting my teeth in the industry. I then moved to Washington D.C. to accept the position of Social Media Director at American Farm Bureau, an opportunity that not only grew me professionally but also greatly expanded me personally. Then, just over a year ago I returned home to Mechanicsburg to help my family run the farm and start my own business. I also taught junior high agriculture for a year in 2016-2017. Phew, I appreciate teachers so much more now!
How did you choose your college and your major? Growing up just 45 miles from campus and being the daughter of an OSU grad, it’s hard to say that it wasn’t in my blood from the start. I really made the decision though after going on a catering job with my mother to the animal hospital as a sophomore in high school, I loved every bit about the campus, the people and all the opportunities. I just knew it was the right place for me.
Like many Ohio State agriculture students, I chose Animal Science originally to be my major. After my first chemistry class, I knew it was not going to be the major for me. Luckily enough, I stumbled across a Communications 101 class and fell in love with it immediately.
What were you involved with outside of class? Organizations? Internships? I’ve always loved being part of a bigger group trying to accomplish something and I think student organizations are one of the absolute best ways for you to get the most out of a college experience. I was in our Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow club, Saddle and Sirloin, Collegiate 4H and president of the College of Food Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences Student Council.
Being slightly new to the communications field I also wanted to do as many internships as I could, (plus I was very poor). In college I had internships with the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association, ABN Radio, Local Matters, Ohio Farm Bureau, and the Ohio State BioProducts Center.
What were your biggest challenges or obstacles in college? Anything you would change? I would have to say my biggest challenge was trying to enjoy the moment, often I was too worried about getting the next job, having the best resume, etc, instead of truly enjoying the moment. If I could change anything I would give myself the wisdom that whatever I was doing that day was enough.
What one piece of advice would you give a student during their senior year? Solidify your relationships with your classmates, you never know where you’ll see them down the road and many of them might be in the same industry or area as you. Those will be invaluable in the years to come.
Tell us about your career so far? As mentioned above:
My first big girl job was as Communications Director for the Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association, where I spent two and half years managing every bit of communications for the organization and cutting my teeth in the industry. I then moved to Washington DC to accept the position of Social Media Director at American Farm Bureau, an opportunity that not only grew me professionally but also greatly expanded me personally. Then, just over a year ago I returned home to Mechanicsburg to help my family run the farm and start my own business.
My business is creating and facilitating experiences (mainly cooking classes, farm to table dinners and the day to day business of the market featuring local foods and goods) that connect food and the people that grow/raise it with their customers.
How have your experiences and involvement in college set you up for success in your career and life post grad? There are so many points where I look back and I’m so glad that I made friends with a wide range of people with a wide range of views. These people have helped me shape a better business because I ask for their input. I also think the communications skills that I gained in college, like web and print design, are invaluable when trying to work on a shoestring budget.
On the flip side, what are the biggest challenges or differences you’ve experienced post grad that you didn’t expect or didn’t feel prepared for? I thought that after all the busy-ness of clubs and classes, I would be able to relax a little when I entered the workforce, alas that was not true. I’ve learned it’s so important to carve out personal time, travel time, family time — because if you don’t make time for it, you’ll burn out in a hard way.
What apps, technology and resources do you use regularly to stay organized and do your job? I’m a huge fan of the Google suite of products. I have a Google phone, regularly send and organize documents and pictures in my Drive, and use it to edit documents between multiple people. I’m also a big fan of Buffer as a social media scheduler, their free option is wonderful and their paid is cheap enough to work for any budget. It’s easy to use, well laid out and available for any device.
At this stage, what are a few of your strengths and weaknesses? Strengths: I feel that my patience and perspective have grown, along with my ability to keep a cool head. I think I’ve also become much more fiscally responsible, and since buying a 117 year old building (that is often trying to fall down), I’ve become much handier and self reliant with tools. 🙂
Weaknesses: I’ve never had so many people to deal with at one time, so I sometimes have calls or emails fall through the cracks for a few days. I can also find myself getting so tied up with the day to day motions that I need a wakeup call to step back and see the bigger picture.
How do you stay motivated when work gets really busy or difficult? Well, I’m of the belief that there is no such thing as motivation — you just do it or you don’t. That being said, I often try to set my work space up so that I feel more creative, by organizing it, making lists, and setting it up with things that make me feel comfortable but not distracted. I also try to follow through on smaller tasks that with make jobs down the line easier.
Work-life balance? How do you stay afloat and refreshed? As a new entrepreneur that lives above her business it is definitely difficult to find a balance. I try very hard to set specific times that I work and don’t (try is the key word there), times that I will answer my phone and email and others that I won’t. I also try to stay in contact with friends, go visit them in their homes or business — it’s really an activity that gives me perspective and leaves me feeling fulfilled and refreshed. I can’t overstate the importance of physical activity either, shoveling out a pen or just being in the pasture with the cows gives me a sense of peace that is hard to find other places.
What in your #PostGradLife are you most proud of so far? I’m proud that I’ve trusted enough in myself to listen to my gut and follow it towards my dreams.
What does life look like right now? Hobbies and interests? What outside of work are you passionate about? As of now, I’m a year into creating my own business and still learning everyday. It consumes much of my time and energy. Outside of the business, I am running for town council right now (I’ve got the politics bug), I spend a lot of time on the farm helping out and as much time as I can afford traveling. Truly, I’m most passionate about agriculture and involving every person in it, no matter their background, I’m lucky enough to have that as part of my job and life.
What path are you looking to take next? Any long-term goals? Next! The official ‘Market at The Hive’ opens in February, a market that will feature local meat, produce, coffee, beer/wine and ready to eat meals. Our town has been without a grocery store for nearly ten years and I’m hoping to fill some of that void. Long term, I hope to expand to a larger on-farm operation, giving people the opportunity to see with their own eyes where their food is grown and get information about larger or different operations.
Just for Fun
What is essential to your morning routine to start the day off right? Coffee, NPR and some sort of physical activity (yoga, a walk, etc).
Do you have a must-have vice like caffeine or item you can’t live without in your workspace? Absolutely. I’m a BIG coffee drinker. 🙂 I also love to have music playing all the time.
If you were to have another career, all limitations aside, what would it be? All limitations aside- I’d love to be a photographer for National Geographic. Travel the world, see beautiful places and people, just looking for the next best photo.
Moment of truth, what do you really miss about college? I miss all the people! Having so many incredible people who love agriculture, yet come from so many different backgrounds around me all the time was something I truly cherished. I miss that being the most important part of my life, instead of trying to make money haha.
Interested in checking out Lyndsey’s business? Find The Hive at:
This past week I made a trip back to the Midwest for a week full of learning and professional development, catching up with friends, fun and work. Other than the fact that there wasn’t much relaxing, I’d say that it was a pretty well-rounded (and very full!) trip.
AFA Alliance Forum
If you know me at all personally, chances are you’ve heard me talk at some point about Agriculture Future of America (AFA). This collegiate organization was a game-changer for my college experience, and continues to have a huge impact on my life today. Every year during the annual Leaders Conference for students, there is along a forum for the AFA Alliance, the organization’s alumni branch (but you don’t have to be an alum to join!) of which I am a lifetime member. I was so excited to be allotted the time from work to attend this year’s forum. Simply put, these are my “people” and I always leave my time with them feeling refreshed and with new ideas and tools to implement in my work-life and environment. This year’s forum focused on “Trust.” Trust between the agriculture and food industry and its consumers, trust in systems and working through what we don’t understand, trust between colleagues in the work place and more. We heard from speakers on time management, negotiating (on many levels), cultural intelligence and asking better questions. We also spent time chatting with each other about the high’s and low’s of what we are facing as professionals in the agriculture and food industry, which fostered opportunities to learn from each other.
If you are a professional in the agriculture and food industry and are looking for a opportunity for professional development I would highly recommend joining the Alliance and I would love to answer any of your questions!
I ALSO am very excited to share that my peers selected me to be a part of the Alliance Planning Committee, so in 2018 I will be serving as its Vice Chair and in 2019 I will be its Chair. So basically… be prepared to hear a bit more about all this in the time to come 🙂
Kansas City is one of my FAVORITE cities!
Boulevard Wheat is my FAVORITE beer so I was pretty excited that I finally had the chance to visit its brewery in KC. On the last evening of the forum, we had a joint reception there with the AFA Track 4 students (so primarily senior getting ready to graduate in December or next May.)
On Sunday morning, Michael, Ted and I joined Track 4 again for a panel discussion on “Pursuing Lifelong Leadership”…so basically chatting about our experiences navigating our post-grad lives and “adulting”, the importance of staying involved in things that fuel your interests and develop you personally and professionally and anything they wanted to ask about. And they really did have some great questions! I really enjoy these kinds of things because for me, having mentors that get me and a network of people whom I can go to with complicated questions or even chat with about the seemingly little things with has been something I certainly don’t take for granted. I hope that even if it was just for an hour, that something I said resonated with and encouraged someone else.
He wasn’t at the forum, but I was able to squeeze in a quick brunch with my friend Zech who is now living in KC. Zech is one of my sister’s good friends from high school, so it was great to catch up with someone from good old Eastern Oregon and hear about the really awesome stuff he is up to now. I love when we all grow up and my sister’s friends become my friends too, and vice versa.
After I was finished with the Alliance Forum, I picked up my rental car and drove the quick 3 hours to Wichita, where Megan, my best friend and college roommate lives. Since I was in KC for the the forum Thursday through Sunday and then had a work event there scheduled for the following Thursday, it didn’t really make sense for me to fly back to DC again in between. I took one of the days off from work so we could get some quality time in together and then spent the other full day working out of her home office. Keeping up with friends when you live so far away from each other and have separate full lives going on is really hard, but so worth it when you have some great ones 🙂
Thank you Megan and Aaron for letting me crash for a couple of days!
Sonic is scarce on the East Coast, or at least in my area, so I went straight for the Route 44.
Megan’s pups Ned (german shepard) and Luna (corgi mix) were never far from the new excited person in their home…
After a few quick days in Wichita, I drove back up to Kansas City for the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB) annual Trade Talk event. This event is a part of a larger conference, but essentially it is a day where organizations and companies across the agriculture and food industry set up booths featuring their spokesperson(s) and broadcasters from across the U.S. cycle through and record interviews all day long. That gives them a bank of content they can use sooner if the topics are timely or they can save it for the next few months when they need to fill in their programs. It also allows us as an organization to focus on a few topics and talking points that are at the forefront for us right now. It was a long, but fruitful day.
I decided the booth needed a bit more flair this year so I made two of these arrangements while I was in Wichita. I was pretty happy with how they turned out :)
So I’m back in DC now for a few weeks… until I travel back to Kansas (Manhattan this time!) for another work trip at the beginning of December. Lucky me!
I have so been looking forward to sharing this feature with you ever since I heard back from the guest! Caroline is shaking the series up a bit by sharing her story via YouTube! I always tell my guests that I want this feature to reflect their story in the best way possible, so I was excited when she suggested a video. Personally for me, video is something I have yet to venture into on my blog, but I am definitely curious!
I met Caroline early on in college through our participation in Agriculture Future of America (AFA) Leaders Conference, and then got to know her a bit better overtime as we both eventually served on the organization’s national student advisory team (not the same year). Caroline’s journey is inspiring. A few months after I moved to DC in 2015, Caroline called me up because she was a crossroads with what the next step was in her life and career. I was honored that she reached out to me for that kind of advice. I vividly remember her sharing so passionately about these ideas and goals she had, about her values and faith and the challenges she was facing. Fast forward to 2017, and I am so excited to see her living out (and crushing) those ideas and goals, and more importantly, so happy and positive about the road she’s on. It’s contagious.
What has always stood out to me since I first met Caroline, was how friendly she is and how gracefully she wears her confidence, and I think you’ll see that in her video. Caroline is also a regular blogger, so if you read or hear something in her story that interests you, I would encourage you to check out her blog at https://strongsweetcaroline.com/.
Name: Caroline Weihl Age: 25 YEARS YOUNG! Hometown: Perrysburg, Ohio College: The Ohio State University Degree(s): May 2014 Agricultural Communication, minor Agribusiness Current Location: Atlanta, Georgia Current Job: Entrepreneur – starting a meal prep company
How did you choose your college and your major? I grew up on a row crop and beef cattle farm and always enjoyed sharing an agriculture story. I was a good writer so it made sense to study agricultural communication. I was fortune to receive a scholarship from The Ohio State University and made the decision simple. I wanted to make the most of the opportunity in front of me.
What were you involved with outside of class? Organizations? Internships? AFA, Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow, Alpha Xi Delta Fraternity and many other student orgs through college. I interned with Trupointe Cooperative (now Sunrise Cooperative), Ohio State Livestock Judging Team, Bader Rutter, and freelanced for the Ohio FFA Association.
What were your biggest challenges or obstacles in college? Anything you would change? Learning to say “no” to the unimportant and make time for priorities.
What one piece of advice would you give a student during their senior year? Make the most to explore new things you want to learn, people you want to build relationships and network with and discover as much about yourself as possible.
Tell us about your career so far? I worked three years with Syngenta in corporate seed sales. I left in August 2017 to start a meal prep company in Atlanta, Georgia. Watch video for more details.
How have your experiences and involvement in college set you up for success in your career and life post grad? Helped me identify my deeper purpose and talents.
On the flip side, what are the biggest challenges or differences you’ve experienced post grad that you didn’t expect or didn’t feel prepared for? Focusing on small steps, one day at a time.
What apps, technology and resources do you use regularly to stay organized and do your job? Evernote and podcasts!
At this stage, what are a few of your strengths and weaknesses? Strengths: confidence, vision, drive, compassion. Weaknesses: impatience and multi-tasking.
How do you stay motivated when work gets really busy or difficult? YouTube, gratitude, self reflection, vision board.
Work-life balance? How do you stay afloat and refreshed? It’s not work-life balance. It’s lifestyle.
What in your #PostGradLife are you most proud of so far? Having the courage to do something most won’t: stepping out of a “comfort zone” to pursue new challenges.
What does life look like right now? Hobbies and interests? What outside of work are you passionate about? Very busy but towards things I want!
What path are you looking to take next? Any long-term goals? Start my company and continue to build it from there.
Just for Fun
What is essential to your morning routine to start the day off right? Meditation and 16oz of water right when waking up.
Do you have a must-have vice like caffeine or item you can’t live without in your workspace? Music.
If you were to have another career, all limitations aside, what would it be? This one, but with other businesses started and going in the travel and clothing industries.
Moment of truth, what do you really miss about college? Close friends and networks.
Caroline, I know you are hustling at life right now, so I want you to know how much I appreciate you taking the time to share your story on my blog!
I definitely had a different blog post planned for today, but when Nicole sent me her profile back, I knew I needed to get it posted as quickly as possible. It definitely made me laugh, and even made me tear up a little. This gal has such a GREAT story to share, and I hope after you read it you will understand why I basically want to be her when I grow up. Nicole and I often joke that we practically have the same life story, and while we do have quite a few similarities, it would not be fair to leave it at that. Nicole is talented beyond her age and experience, is a social media guru, puts 110% into everything she does and is often my go-to when I need a creative boost. What I love about Nicole is she really GETS people and the VALUE of relationships. She has a great laugh and I can always count on my conversations with her to be real and fulfilling, whether we are talking about communications strategy or our mutual infatuation and homesick longing for Tillamook Cheese.
This is a good read folks, through and through.
Name: Nicole Lane Erceg Age: 24 Hometown: John Day, Oregon College: Kansas State University Degree(s): Agricultural Communications & Journalism Current Location: Wooster, Ohio Current Job: Producer Communications Specialist
I was raised in the Strawberry Mountains of Eastern Oregon where I fell in love with rural life, agriculture and the stories of the people who produce our food. Growing up 2.5 hour drive from the nearest Walmart wasn’t easy, but it did build character. My desire to share the stories of agriculture led me to Kansas State University where I earned my degree in agricultural communications and journalism with a focus in animal science. Why would a girl who loves mountains move to a state rumored to be flatter than a pancake? It turns out, I’ll go just about anywhere with the promise of a great story, adventure and learning more about ag.
When I left my tiny hometown in Oregon bound for Kansas, I was riding shotgun in a little red car next to a boy I’d convinced to come with me. When he agreed to switch colleges and come along for the ride he made me promise he could pick next. His choice? North Carolina. We’ve lived in Raleigh for the past couple of years while he finished a Masters in Swine Nutrition and coached the livestock judging team. Meanwhile I worked from home as the Social Media Director for a livestock marketing and advertising agency.
We planned to stay in Raleigh for the next few years while he finished a Ph.D. program but… I’m writing this from Wooster, Ohio. We didn’t plan to move around the nation so much, but our shared love of agriculture has taken us from one end of this country to the other — from small rural towns to an apartment in the city and back to rural life again. I am one of the few people who understands the pain of living somewhere too remote to get high speed internet and pleasure of living somewhere so urban, I can get Taco Bell delivered to my door.
Currently, I’m learning to call Ohio home while working for the Certified Angus Beef Brand and running my own communications and consulting business on the side.
How did you choose your college and your major? If I had a dollar for every time I’ve told this story…
I had my heart SET on Purdue University. I knew I wanted to do Agricultural Communications and Oregon State didn’t have the major so even though I’d been raised to be a beaver, I knew I was going out of state. I applied to several of the big ag schools like Texas A&M and Oklahoma State but really wanted to go to Purdue. I honestly can’t tell you why, I just really wanted to be a Boilermaker. Kansas State wasn’t even on my radar until we took one of those college tests in class. You know, the kind that is supposed to tell you the PERFECT school for you after answering a million questions? All my friends got pages of lists of hundreds schools for them. Want to know how many showed up on my list? One. Kansas State.
My senior year of high school, I was elected to serve as an Oregon FFA State Officer which required me to defer college plans for a year. I contacted Purdue to let them know I wasn’t coming and asked to defer my admission and if they could hold my scholarships. All I got back was a cold email saying they couldn’t help, wouldn’t defer anything and that I could reapply next year.
Then I let K-State know I couldn’t make it in the fall and asked the same thing. Could they hold my scholarships and defer my admission for a year? Not only were they happy to do so, I got a HANDWRITTEN NOTE from a past Kansas FFA Officer congratulating me and letting me know they couldn’t wait for me to come to Kansas when my year of service was through. I had never been to the state of Kansas but I knew I would be going to school there.
When I attended National FFA Convention that Fall as a state officer, I knew I had to seek out the K-State booth. Amanda and I had barely crossed paths as FFA members from Eastern Oregon and I recognized her. So I walked up to her at the booth and said “You don’t know me, but I know you and I’m from Eastern Oregon and want to go to K-State and study Ag Comm like you do.”
And that’s how I became a Wildcat and friends with Amanda. 🙂
(Amanda here: I TOTALLY remember that vividly!)
What were you involved with outside of class? Organizations? Internships? I was involved in everything, which I don’t necessarily recommend. I’m not saying that to sound cool, I really did go overboard. I was president of my sorority (Sigma Alpha), president of the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow Chapter (loved it), was an Ag Ambassador, involved in a program called Student Foundation and helped plan the K-State Proud Campaign. I got to help teach an agricultural advocacy class, I started my freelance business, I served as editor of our college of agriculture magazine, I travelled abroad twice, I did six different internships. I packed a lot into the 3.5 years I was at K-State and loved it, but I wish I’d had the ability to make hard choices about what to invest my time in and when to say no. Saying no is sooooooooooooo hard. Sitting down with leadership of organizations to say “I quit” is not easy but it’s so worth it. It also would have prevented me from disappointing people when things conflicted or I really just couldn’t do it all. Pick 2-3 things and do those things well. But always do the study abroad trips. #worthit.
What were your biggest challenges or obstacles in college? Anything you would change? I don’t think there’s a lot that I would change, other than narrowing down what to be involved in earlier. I would have liked to stay the full four years instead of rushing into the professional world, but I don’t regret saving a semester of out of state tuition. I think if I was to tell my Freshman self anything it would be to be NICE. These people around you aren’t competition. In four years they’ll be your coworkers. Become friends now. It’s better that way. And I know a lot of college kids aren’t this way, but I would tell myself to not take everything so seriously, to go to Aggieville more, take ALL of the human development classes (they are so cool, don’t wait until your last semester) and start making student loan payments now.
What one piece of advice would you give a student during their senior year? Go to Aggieville. Hug your friends. Wear a lot of purple. Buy football tickets. Use the rec center. It’s free. That’s amazing. If your career is in agriculture take more ag econ courses. Do it. Do it now. Understand the markets and what influences them. I don’t care if you are studying herbology, want to work for an ad agency or be in beef genomics. If you want to be in ag, take MORE ag econ. Stop reading this right now and go sign up for more ag econ courses.
Tell us about your career so far? I was really fortunate to land a job right out of college that allowed me to work remote from home. This let me live in Raleigh where my husband was attending school and continue the freelance business I started in college. I absolutely loved getting to work in the digital media space helping farmers, ranchers and western lifestyle brands harness the power of social media.
When I was in college, I interned for Certified Angus Beef and to say I loved it wouldn’t be the right choice of words. I feltat home, like I had found my fit. Telling the stories of the beef community for such an incredible brand was like my puzzle piece had found it’s place. When a position came open on the team I had interned and freelanced for, I knew I had to apply. Ohio was never in the plans for us, but I am so fulfilled getting to help teach ranchers about high quality beef production both in the digital and print space. Bonus, is that I continue to freelance and consult, always keeping things interesting and it allows me to live out some other passions like my love for wheat farmers.
How have your experiences and involvement in college set you up for success in your career and life post grad? I know it’s so cliche but it’s really all about who you know. The relationships I built in college through friends, my department, being involved in organizations, internships and attending conferences have been the biggest factor in setting me up for success. Honestly, I paid a pretty penny for my degree (#outofstateprobs) but the PEOPLE I met through my degree program are more valuable than any classroom experience and totally worth the college debt I’m paying off right now.
These people have become my coworkers, my freelance clients, and all around rockstars to have in my life. They are cheerleaders and problem solvers and world changers. I’m really lucky that I actually work for one of the company’s I interned with in college and I get to freelance and work with many other people I met or worked for in college.
On the flip side, what are the biggest challenges or differences you’ve experienced post grad that you didn’t expect or didn’t feel prepared for? Losing your people is tough. In college you go from a life surrounded by friends who have become family and a support system of mentors and teachers and life coaches and then you move away. It’s hard. It gets lonely sometimes. Also, when someone figures out the whole making good friends as an adult thing, I’ll pay to take that class. Notice how both of these answers are about people? People are the best part of college and the hardest part to lose. They are also the most challenging thing about work and the only way you’re going to get through it. People matter. More than skills, more than resumes, more than experience, more than anything.
What apps, technology and resources do you use regularly to stay organized and do your job? I’m one of those people that thinks I’m a hot mess and other people think is crazy hyper-organized. I’m a big fan of Asana for task management and am now a firm believer in living that #inboxzero life. I’d be lost in this world without sticky notes, podcasts, the GPS on my phone and the app TapeACall. Also, Freshbooks. Cloud accounting software made for creatives. If you freelance and you are creating your own invoices, stop that nonsense immediately and pay for accounting software.
At this stage, what are a few of your strengths and weaknesses? Ooo deep question.
Knowing my stuff. I spend a lot of time staying up to date with what’s going on in the world of digital communications, media, the world and my craft. I’m good at what I do, knowing the cutting edge stuff and I’m always working to get better.
Asking tough questions.
Storytelling across all platforms from a 2,500 word print story to a 140 character tweet.
Being comfortable in my own skin. I really wish I didn’t have to say that at this age. I wish I could say I confidently slay all the time, but I don’t. Often I need affirmation from others to go forth and do the bold thing I want to do but am far too afraid to do. Sometimes that “bold” thing really is something out of the box and innovative and some days it’s talking to a coworker instead of sending an email.
Man I REALLY wish I didn’t have to say that one. I overestimate what I can accomplish in a day. I need deadlines and I need help with deadlines. I’m not saying I can’t meet them, but I struggle being realistic when setting them for myself.
Expecting perfection. From myself. From others. I’m working on this big time right now. Give grace. We all could use some.
Work-life balance? How do you stay afloat and refreshed? Oh I’m the last person you should ask about work/life balance. I LOVE what I do. It’s part of my identity and who I am. I was created to be a workaholic. I haven’t worked just one job since I was a freshman in college. However, I’ve learned the hard way that my type A, over achieving, do it all personality is at a high risk for burnout. HIGH RISK y’all. This means when I burn out, it’s not like I just fizzle out of energy, I crash and burn. There’s flames. Big ones. And I’m not the only one that gets torched in the fire. Coworkers, friends, clients, my poor husband — they all have to deal with the repercussions and that’s just not something I’m okay with anymore.
Right now this is a major focus area of my life. I seriously had to set goals and hard boundaries for myself. I have goals around when I will leave work and when I can bring my work laptop home and when I can answer work emails. My supervisor knows this and knows if I break my own rules. Does this sound overboard? Maybe. But I can tell you I am a completely different human now that I’m working from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. five days a week. I have time for things like working out and cooking dinner and I’m even thinking about starting to watch Game of Thrones. Nicole a year ago had to be dragged away from her computer at 11:50 p.m. every night. I worked weekends. I answered work email as soon as it came through. I never shut off.
Don’t be that person. It’s not healthy and it’s not getting you ahead. I’m not saying don’t go the extra mile. Just be the person that does more in their 8 hour workday instead of the person that works 17 hours a day.
Just For Fun:
What is essential to your morning routine to start the day off right? My freelance work. This might sound crazy but it’s the first thing I do when I get out of bed. I go straight to my home office and crank out the first chore of the day. It also makes me feel amazing that by the time I head off to my “day job” I’ve already put in a couple hours of work while everyone else was sleeping. Also, then when I get home in the evening, I don’t have to continue working and can just relax.
Do you have a must-have vice like caffeine or item you can’t live without in your workspace? Um… caffeine. In the past it’s been Diet Pepsi. I’m really trying to cut that out or at least reduce my intake but I used to basically drink it like a fish breathes water. So right now it’s Crystal light with caffeine. I can give up the soda, but not the caffeine.
If you were to have another career, all limitations aside, what would it be? This is tough because I truly believe I’m doing what I was made to do. I was born to be a writer. I was made to tell stories. I’m passionate about digital media and how we can use it to build common ground. I love agriculture and believe there is not another industry whose stories need so desperately to be communicated and that if they are communicated effectively have the ability to create immense positive change for our nation and our world.
If the ag thing didn’t work out, all limitations aside, I might have gone into journalism for one of the major news organizations or I’d be in D.C. telling the stories of politics. I love D.C. and politics and my husband refuses to live there. He also could care less about policy. However, either way I’d be living out my truth that stories have this insane power to create change and I want to be one of the lucky ones wielding the wand.
Moment of truth, what do you really miss about college? Brooke Harshaw. The color purple. Limestone. K-State Football and Bill Snyder folklore. Raspberry Black Bean Chipotle Dip. Rent being only $375. The Thurston House. The Claflin House. The way people celebrate Kansas Day like it’s a national holiday. The people. Feeling at home.
Nicole, I am so, so, so very thankful for our friendship and that I always have someone to chat with that totally gets it. Thank you for sharing your story on my blog. I know that others will appreciate it as much as I did. #westcoastbestcoast