Oct. 24 2018 08:35 AM

Don’t be put together at the expense of being real.

Keep it real not professional. I had a laugh for a good cause at the Pennsylvania state Jersey meeting. I told the juniors pictured that I would donate a dollar for every minute they stood on one leg with their hands on their head.

I understand that there is a time to be professional and a time to be relaxed. I understand it; I just don’t agree with it. In our attempt to be more professional, we’ve lost our edge.

In dairy circles, I’m often one of the youngest people in the room and sometimes one of the few women. Unofficial professional protocol would tell me to sit quietly, take in the conversation, and let the seasoned players play the game. I should save my questions until the end of the conversation and only offer my opinion when it’s asked. No one has ever said it out loud; I just kind of feel it. And I know I’m not the only one. But five years ago I changed.

Five years ago I started telling my story online. Suddenly, I had a voice and people wanted to hear it. I wasn’t being professional; I was being real. It turns out that everyone has issues when working with their family, no one is happy about the state of the dairy industry, and we’re all tired of how agriculture is being represented in mainstream media. We also all hate humidity, agree that allergies are the worst, and are tired of watching farm after farm close its barn doors for good.

I am not a professional speaker. So last month when I was asked to be the customer presenter at a state-wide Ag company staff meeting with roughly 200 attendees, I was a little nervous. Beforehand, they gave me a laundry list of topics I should cover, but I only touched on one. They asked how they could better help their customers. I told them to help us show the world what we do then I asked them to understand. Understand that we’re struggling more than ever before and a lot of us don’t know how to cope with that. Afterward, dozens came up to thank me for being so honest.

When things get hard, it isn’t the time to become more professional or polite. I’m not advocating being rude, but why aren’t we asking the hard questions? Why not speak up in the middle of a conversation to admit that you have no idea what’s being talked about? You’re probably not the only one! I’m worried that we’re so afraid of looking silly or stupid that we’re missing out on new ideas, connections, and opportunities. We can be professional and relatable at the same time. It took me a few years, but I know now that I’d rather look stupid for an hour and get something accomplished than be professionally respected for the rest of my life.

Jessica Peters

The author dairies in partnership with her parents and brother at Spruce Row Farm in Pennsylvania. Jessica is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, and since 2015, she has been active in promoting dairy in her local community. You can find her and her 250 Jersey cows on Facebook at Spruce Row Dairy or on Instagram at @seejessfarm.