Karen Bohnert

Twenty-five years ago, I graduated high school. I couldn’t leave central Oregon fast enough; not because I had a bad childhood, but because I always knew my life was destined for somewhere else. This is hard to explain, even to myself, but deep down I knew my life would be far away from my hometown of Bend, Ore.

While I was right on that, I was amiss in thinking my life would not be on a dairy farm and that there had to be more to life than milking cows. I look back smiling and always tell my children, “Never say never!”

After attending some recent graduation parties and having my oldest son finish his freshman year in high school, I think of the advice I would give to graduates, to my children, and even to my 18-year-old self.

Here’s what I would say. Read this. Pass it on. And, if nothing else, tuck it away for a gentle reminder down the road.

I would strongly encourage everyone — young and those young at heart — to stop and rest along the way. Hit the pause button. Power down if needed. Enjoy the view.

Don’t focus so hard on reaching the top that you miss seeing all of the beautiful sites along the way. Don’t focus so hard on getting to the final destination that you forget to enjoy the journey.

I guess the best thing I could tell young people, especially in today’s era, is try to stay in your lane and worry about yourself. If you can only remember one thing, remember this — comparison is a thief of joy. There will be others that get into their dream college and some that don’t even make it to college. The difference can simply be luck.

Years later, you might find friends who landed their perfect job or someone that buys their dream home at the age of 30. Believe me, I understand, it is so easy to become envious. But remember, it’s their journey, not yours. This might be their life highlight and yours is yet to come.

When you are trying to keep up in the fast lane, with this fast-paced life we live in, learn to slow down. Life is short, too short. And, I think that we all know this or were told this at some point in our life. But, until you face your own mortality, or the mortality of someone close to your heart, you won’t even really appreciate just how short and how precious life is. So, slow down and smell the roses along the way.

Learn to extend grace to yourself. Even those that go through life with extreme caution and are the most focused, still make mistakes. After all, we are all human. The goal is simply to learn from our mistakes, forgive ourselves, and move forward.

Be bold. Say yes to opportunities. All of my work experiences taught me more about the world we live in, more about myself, and ultimately connected me to where I am today.

If I had never taken that job in Ohio, leaving my family and friends behind in Oregon, I would have never met my future husband. At 21, I was so willing and daring to explore the world. That was a true blessing.

Make connections and realize that networking happens everywhere. I have never had any regrets when I’ve been brave enough to apply for a job, ask the tough questions, and so much more. The answers might not have been immediate, but extending your hand in a formal introduction and showcasing your passion for life connects you to more opportunities than you ever realize.

Be kind. Everyone is facing some kind of battle and some of those battles are far greater than any of us can imagine. Listen, you will have regrets in life, and I can honestly tell you my regrets have nothing to do with anything other than the times I was unkind. Be kind, I guarantee you won’t ever regret it.

The key to making it all work out is finding your God-given purpose and then you will find your passion. If someone is passionate about life, they really are living their best life.

I always tell my kids, and gently remind myself, that if you follow your passion, then you lead a purposeful life. One that fills your heart with joy and straightens your spine with intention. If we discover “our why,” why God put us here on earth, we become happier and more passionate about life.

As a teen, my late father told me he could see me driving a taxi cab in a large city because of my desire to drive and love to talk, either that or writing for Hoard’s Dairyman. At the time, I was so annoyed with his advice, but today, I am so thankful the latter became my reality. I submitted a writing example to Hoard’s in college for a possible slot as one of their interns. I didn’t get the internship; I was so disappointed and ashamed with myself that I never told anyone I even applied.

Now, twenty-five years later, I look back on all that I’ve done, including writing and communicating for the dairy industry. See, I told you, sometimes life has a way of working itself out.

Around the Kitchen Table is a regular column in Hoard's Dairyman. The author and her husband work in partnership with family on a 500-cow dairy in East Moline, Ill.