Lesson learned, it was a fair to remember

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 9, 1999

There wasn’t too much memorable about the fair.

Monday, August 09, 1999

There wasn’t too much memorable about the fair. Not last week’s fair, but the fair of about 15 years ago. It was the fair that earned me a trip to the &uot;Great Minnesota Get-together,&uot; the state fair.

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Aside from earning a champion ribbon – or was it reserve champion? – I don’t remember much about the fair. The rides were likely running; the food was probably fried and tasty.

As I talked with a variety of fair contenders last week, my mind drifted back to my days of 4-H and the Mower County Fair. I began to remember the early years of struggling to get a top-notch project together on time only to be outclassed by someone with a little more skill.

Each year, I dedicated myself to trying harder.

Then, one year, things changed.

While I had made the promise to do better that year, I failed to keep the pledge. Since I wasn’t a farm kid, I didn’t have livestock. Believe me, woodworking and photography projects are easier to ignore than a hog or calf.

As such, that fateful year, I put off making my &uot;perfect&uot; woodworking creation. It was a cabinet designed in detail to include precision cuts and ornamental carvings. It was going to be my masterpiece, created from hours of work after school.

Then, August came. Weeks from the fair, Mom asked, &uot;What are you taking this year?&uot;

I eyed the bread box I made in my freshman shop class and asked if she minded emptying it for a week.

Feeling like a failure, I drug myself to the fairgrounds holding the project that wasn’t part of my grand design. It was maybe a blue ribbon project. Maybe.

As I talked to the judge, I realized the questions were too easy. Likely, the judge saw through my last-minute effort and was preparing me for a red ribbon. Maybe.

Then, out of nowhere, a blue ribbon appeared. I pulled it off. I didn’t have to admit my fault.

A few days later, I was being congratulated. Why? I had no idea.

That is, I had no idea until I saw the champion ribbon on my bread box.

I was going to the state fair – based on a half-hearted job and a less than stellar presentation.

While I went to the state fair and had a reasonably good time, I didn’t enjoy it as much as if I had earned it through dedication and hard work.

That was 15 years ago.

Looking back I realize I learned a lesson. Not the lesson I thought I had – that I could get by with less than my best work.

The lesson I eventually learned was just the opposite. I discovered that just getting by doesn’t pay the rewards one wants. Even if you win the prize, the trophy doesn’t shine as bright, the award doesn’t seem as great.

Unfortunately, that’s a lesson that many children today are missing out on as schools, sports programs and self-esteem classes work to make everyone feel like a winner.

Hard work isn’t needed when everyone wins. Extra effort isn’t a requirement if no one keeps score.

Sure, self-esteem is a marvelous thing and we all want to pass it on to the next generation.

But, letting every child think they can achieve top honors at everything they try is simply setting them up for disaster in the future.

At an early age, I was informed I would never be an opera star. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait until I flew to New York to find out. I was able to set my sights elsewhere.

In the long run, that’s the benefit of programs like 4-H.

All participants are encouraged to try their best and experiment in new areas. They are challenged to challenge themselves.

Yet, they also face the reality that some people are better than others. Only one person takes home the purple ribbon.

In the end, the lessons learned from not being the best can be as rewarding as those learned while working to achieve the top level.

In the end, the lessons of trying and failing or succeeding will be around long after the nausea from the rides fade and the taste of corn dogs disappear.