When the fear of failure propels you forward

With the recent wrap-up of the Ag Women’s Network Pilot Mentorship Program, it’s time to share the blog posts created by the mentees. By following along with this series of posts you will get to know these women and find out about their mentorship experience. There are several common themes expressed from individual perspectives and lots of inspiring comments on mentorship. Many thanks to the mentees for accepting the challenge of writing a blog post and sharing their experiences.

My name is Kathleen Baird, I currently work as a dairy technician at the Trouw Nutrition AgResearch Farm in Burford, Ontario. I graduated from the University of Guelph, Ridgetown Campus, with diplomas in Environmental Management and Agriculture. I was fortunate to get a job at Craigcrest Holsteins in Arthur, Ontario. Despite my lack of on-farm experience, Elgin and Joan Craig had full confidence in my abilities as assistant herdsperson. It was such a great “unofficial” mentorship that I will treasure forever.

Joan was my first introduction to the Ag Women’s Network (AWN), of which I have been part of for the past three years. I have enjoyed attending events, both in person and online, often in the background, usually the quiet observer. This is a role that I have adopted in most aspects of my life and something I’m not exactly happy doing.

When I first heard about the Ag Women’s Network Mentorship Program, I thought this would be a great opportunity! I was hoping to connect with someone in the industry that could encourage and empower me and someone that could help me set goals for the future.

To give you a little background on me… seventh generation farmer in Canada, countless generations farming in Ireland before that. As you can imagine, I come from a long line of strong women. As the quietest person in my very large, very close – in proximity and personally – extended family, I have always struggled to find where I fit.

A lot of the extended family on my dad’s side are dairy farmers, so being part of the local dairy 4-H club was an excellent opportunity, with lots of calves to choose from. 4-H was a great opportunity to develop every skill you can think of, from public speaking, teamwork and leadership; it also brought out my competitive side. I was surrounded by people I admired and tried to emulate to the best of my ability. This was my first foray into the mentorship experience. My ultimate goal through 4-H was to make it to the Scotiabank Hays Classic, now known as the TD Classic. Being in one of the most competitive counties in the country, my dream was only going to be achieved through hard work and dedication. Try as I might, of my 10 years of eligibility, I only made the team once, and unfortunately, it was an epic failure in my eyes. I felt like I had let my teammates, my leaders, my family and my county down.

Long story short, my therapist tells me I have an unhealthy fear of failure and anxiety, resulting in depression. This is something that I have struggled with since I can remember. I always set expectations for myself that, looking back, seem extreme. Disappointing people that support and encourage me is soul crushing.

My mentorship relationship with Marie McNabb, a dairy farmer from New Hamburg and a Gay Lea Board Member, has been a little difficult to define. It has been empowering and terrifying at the same time. In that deep, dark place in my mind, I wasn’t sure that I was worthy of such an accomplished and respected member of the agriculture community. Was this going to be just one more person that I could disappoint? Luckily, Marie is a wonderful person, and was able to help me realize several of the goals I had set for myself at the beginning of this journey. It started small with some networking and becoming part of the Brant County Holstein Club as a director and continued through to me wanting to change the world.

With Marie’s guidance and encouragement, I decided to apply for a Nuffield Scholarship; an opportunity awarded to 4 or 5 people in Canada each year, to study a topic related to agriculture, travel the world, then come back home and educate your friends, family, colleagues and communities about said topic and how you can use it to affect change in Canadian Agriculture. The application process was a challenge in itself. I researched my preferred topic (extension resources for women in agriculture), interviewed past scholars, and spent many long nights perfecting my application. Following the submission, it was an agonizing few weeks to hear if I got an interview.

With the title of this blog post, I’m sure you can imagine where this ended up. Unfortunately, I was not awarded a scholarship. I was devastated. This is just another example of when I can do everything in my power to get the best possible outcome and come out of it with nothing. I’d like to say that we talked it out, and I got over it, spoiler alert – that didn’t happen. When I was ready to discuss it, Marie was there. She had feedback, alternate options, and helped me to realize that this process gives me an opportunity to learn and grow. There will be opportunities that arise in my personal and professional life that require sacrifice and taking that risk may be terrifying but can open up so many more doors than I ever thought possible.

My dad always told me when I was waiting at the ringside that being nervous is a good thing. A good dose of fear is important because it means you care. Being able to harness that fear and direct it to a positive place can blow apart boundaries, where possibilities are endless.

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