May 3 2023 01:20 PM

You never know how that skill you learned — or that free pair of gloves — might pay off in the future.

One of the best parts of going to a conference is, undoubtedly, perusing through the trade show. No matter how many exhibitors there are, the booths offer new insights, new products, and new connections. In exchange for your time and attention (or perhaps to catch your attention), many also offer another highlight of attending conferences — free giveaways.

Through my FFA and 4-H days, and now for the last few years attending dairy events around the country as an editor, I have amassed a collection of random free goodies that I am simultaneously proud and a bit questionable of. At one event last year, I thought I hit the jackpot when I ended up with a pair of nice work gloves. I took them home and stashed them away with my gardening supplies, excited to use them in the spring. I wouldn’t have bought them for myself, but since I had them, I might as well use them.

I didn’t think about them again until a few weeks later when I was driving home. On a road that runs between a Walmart and a chain link fence, for one reason or another, there are always plastic bags and a lot of other trash piling up at the bottom of the fence for a long stretch of the road. I had been noticing it more for a couple of weeks, shaking my head at the people I didn’t know who were letting their garbage blow away and litter the town. I thought, not unkindly, shouldn’t the city or the businesses nearby try to fix this? Why didn’t anybody do anything to clean it up?

In the grand scheme of things, this was just some litter. There were more pressing problems people had to fix. At the same time, it was a poor reflection of the area. As I drove past another day once again, wondering why nobody was doing anything, I realized, why didn’t I do anything if it bothered me so much? After all, this was my road that I walk and drive every day.

I made more excuses for myself about how long that trash had probably been there and what a mess it would be to clean up, but then I remembered those free gloves. I had tools to do the job. It seemed like I had to do it now. So, I loaded up some trash bags, donned my gloves, and worked for an hour or two one sunny day. It was not a particularly fun job, but the fence line looked much better.

Now, there was more trash blown across the road just a few days later which has yet to be cleaned up. The result of my small effort was not monumental. But that day made me think a lot about those gloves. Ultimately, they are what made me take action. I could’ve done the job without them, but it wouldn’t have been as effective. And without someone giving them to me, and me putting them to use, they would have been useless.

There are a lot of skills in life that we can acquire over the years like free giveaways. Sometimes they are not free; we pay to learn them or work hard to develop them. Other times, we can accumulate them from just watching and listening to others. Then, when a situation arises where we need them, we can pull them out of the closet, dust them off, and put them to use.

I don’t think we typically truly understand what we’re learning in the moment we are learning it — when we’re sitting in class, listening to advice, or watching someone demonstrate a job. In those instances, we are building up our toolbox of skills. It’s when we put that knowledge to use that we can recognize the gift we got when we learned it.

Likewise, we never know exactly what we are teaching someone when we speak to or show them something. We’re giving them what we know, whether we realize it or not, but what they take away from it and put into practice might be beyond what we ever pictured.

What “giveaways” might you be sharing? What can you pick up from others and store away for the right moment? You never know when they might come in handy.

Katelyn Allen

Katelyn Allen joined the Hoard’s Dairyman team as the Publications Editor in August 2019 and is now an associate editor. Katelyn is a 2019 graduate of Virginia Tech, where she majored in dairy science and minored in communication. Katelyn grew up on her family’s registered Holstein dairy, Glen-Toctin Farm, in Jefferson, Md.