This week I had the most amazing opportunity to begin my journey with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Extension Academy.
I'll admit when my supervisor forwarded me the application and suggested I apply, my first thought was to think of an excuse.
I have enough to do here in the county. I already say there are not enough hours in the day and not enough days in the week. I am ever more reluctant to spend evenings and nights away from home and my 2-year-old.
I also don’t need one more leadership meeting to attend. I've taken a million leadership programs from middle school onward, and you just take a simple personality test and split into groups for some activities about similarities and differences. There are always group challenges and team building activities. You might study a few theories or case studies, then we go back home to the crazy daily schedule and are expected to somehow implement it all.
But the program with the Environmental Sciences Extension Academy promised to be different, and something in that spoke to me.
I feel like, personally, I’m at a crossroads. I wouldn’t call it a “midlife crisis” because I associate that with the stereotypical sports car. Perhaps, though, that is what I am experiencing.
I’m questioning my impact and purpose. Have I followed the right career path? Would it be too late to change it if it was wrong? How am I parenting? How am I as a wife, sister, aunt, daughter and friend?
What’s going on in our world? What’s going on in our community? How does that affect me? How can I affect it?
I’m frustrated, saddened, scared and confused some days — sometimes all in one day.
So maybe my supervisor’s encouragement came on just the right day because I applied and was accepted.
I marked off the three three-day retreats on my calendar and tried to get excited.
Prior to our retreat, we completed a battery of in-depth personality and management style evaluations, much more in-depth than I’d ever completed in the past.
We were told to prepare to completely focus on the retreat and our development, rather than planning to check emails and answer calls throughout the retreat.
Our instructor called it the 60-mile rule: if it isn’t something you’d drive 60 miles to handle, let it go.
In a day and age where Wi-Fi and smartphones have made constant accessibility an expectation, this was a little tough to implement.
In the short term, I think that simple rule may be one of the most impactful lessons for my daily life.
For the long term, though, I can already tell the Extension Academy is going to make a huge impact in my career and life.
Is the time away from the office worth it? In a single word: yes.
The first retreat is held
In late September, 16 Extension employees from across the state gathered in Athens for our first retreat.
We started by learning our traditional Myers-Briggs personality preference evaluation results and it probably won’t surprise anyone that I’m still clearly an extrovert.
But the follow-up after each evaluation was one big difference from previous leadership training sessions I have completed. We not only talked about strengths but examined how those same strengths can come across as negatives to others with different styles.
We explored how things we see as negatives in colleagues are often misconstrued and why.
Re-reading the above sentences, this seems simple. But perhaps it was the guidance of a talented leadership consultant with a background in Extension that made the difference — these activities were different than any I’ve ever experienced.
And this was no leisurely discussion; we worked intensively with lunch served right at our tables and continued with study and reflection each evening.
We were assigned leadership books to read and discuss with a work group over the next three months, interviews with administrators and other organizational leaders to conduct, personal action plans to develop and begin, and peer coaching relationships to build.
Not only were we challenged to focus and reflect on the three days of the retreat, but we’re actively continuing the lessons and journey continually through the next six months.
So does this absence from the office directly benefit the youth of Newton County? Definitely.
Fullerton is a County Extension Agent in 4-H Youth with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.